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Published: 2/12/2005

Maumee St. Paul's boosts attendance with Lenten drama

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

During Lent, church attendance usually starts strong on Ash Wednesday but tapers off during the 40-day period of reflection and penitence, said the Rev. Tom Schaeffer of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Maumee.

But in 2002, when St. Paul's presented a series of biblical dramas on Wednesday nights during Lent, attendance at the midweek services grew, the pastor said.

The church decided to continue the seasonal dramas and is now presenting its third Lenten series with a presentation of the play Fish-Eyes on Wednesday nights starting next week, with the final scenes to be presented during Easter services March 27.

Fish-Eyes tells the story of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, with a plot that mixes spirituality and humor as it tells such biblical stories as Jesus feeding 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread.

The production at St. Paul's is being directed by Kip Keller and it will star Joe Sarnes as Peter and Brian Zieber as Andrew.

"We saw Fish-Eyes presented at Willow Creek Community Church [near Chicago] and it was great," Pastor Schaeffer said. "It was so well-written and there definitely is some humor."

Lee Eshelman and Ted Swartz, a Christian comedy duo from Harrisonburg, Va., are the writers of the play.

Mr. Eshelman said he and Mr. Swartz perform Fish-Eyes year-round, although the play is "perfectly suited" to Lent. And they have performed the play for audiences across the United States and around the world.

"Last year we were in Kenya with it," Mr. Eshelman said in an interview this week.

The inspiration for the drama was an assignment that Mr. Swartz received while studying at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Virginia. The professor told the students to take a look at Chapter 16 in the Gospel of Matthew and read it as if it were a play.

"Ted said it struck him as funny when Jesus said, 'Beware the yeast of the Pharisees,' and the disciples huddled together to find out what that meant," Mr. Esheleman said.

"It was compelling and it was humorous, and that sort of became the germ out of which the rest of the piece grew."

Fish-Eyes eventually became a 90-minute play with a dozen scenes that begin with the disciples being called by Jesus and ends with Christ's resurrection.

The various scenes can be performed separately to fit a church's needs, as at St. Paul's, where the play will be broken down into sets of two to four scenes each week during Lent.

Although the story is based on Scripture, the characters wear contemporary clothing and the backdrop is intentionally timeless.

"It ends up as a mix of time periods," Mr. Eshelman said. "We'll have Peter and Andrew riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, which you'd probably never do today, and in another scene Peter is trying to learn to play a folk guitar. We decided to focus on the writing and the characterization and leave out as much as possible so people can fill in with their imaginations."

Mr. Eshelman and Mr. Swartz, who use the stage duo name of Ted and Lee, initially kept tight reins over the script, reserving it for themselves to perform.

"It was our stock in trade, and there was a temptation to keep it close to the chest and say, 'We can't let this out.' But then we realized we can't be everywhere and all these other people want to use it, and it enables the play to go places it would not go otherwise."

Scenes from Fish-Eyes will be presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday and continuing through March 16 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 112 East Wayne St., Maumee, with the final two scenes presented on Easter Sunday, March 27.

- David Yonke



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