‘Message of Easter’ returns

Published 7:16 am Friday, March 26, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

FARM LIFE — Piney Grove Baptist Church opens the 31st season of its outdoor drama, “The Message of Easter,” tonight with a Spanish-language version of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The church is located in the Farm Life community of Martin County, near Williamston.
The drama, in English, continues Saturday and Sunday evenings, and then resumes March 31 and runs through April 4. Signing for hearing-impaired audience members will be provided Sunday. Each 90-minute presentation begins at 8 p.m.
“The Message of Easter” was the brainchild of a member of the Piney Grove congregation, according to Sarah Hodges, who handles publicity for the show and works on the technical crew.
“This was the vision of our friend and church member, E.T. Taylor,” Hodges said. “This was laid on him, and he was very talented in theater and drama. He was in the original ‘Blackbeard, Knight of the Black Flag’ in Bath.”
Taylor was an inspiration to other members of the production, Hodges said.
“He just had a gift for it,” she recalled. “His love of theater and his love of the church convinced him we could do this.”
The production has grown in size and cast members over the past three decades, Hodges noted.
“This started in the yard of Nancy Latham, next door to the current set,” she said. “The early performances were held in her yard.”
All of the work — from acting in the drama to working behind the scenes — is done by the church’s congregation. Church members also built and maintain the sets, sew the costumes, direct parking and seat guests.
“Everything about this is done by the church family,” Hodges said. “The parking and seating crews are the face of the drama, since the audience usually doesn’t get to talk to the cast.”
The cast often includes multiple members of families, sometimes spanning two or three generations. And many have stuck with it over the years.
“Jimmy Griffin, who plays Jesus, is one of a handful who have never missed a performance,” Hodges said.
Josie Hardison has been involved in the show for about 28 years.
“My favorite thing is everybody coming together as a unit and just bringing it together and working together for one purpose,” said Hardison, who plays Mary Magdalene. “I just enjoy getting out there and it’s a wonderful witness.”
Leslie Hardison, who portrays Peter, said his wife, daughter, mother, sister, niece and nephew have all been involved in the production over the years.
“It’s a good story,” he said. “It’s an easy way to witness without going one-on-one, which I’m not very good at.”
That kind of family dedication began with the Taylors, and it continues today.
“For E.T., this was a family effort, with his own family as well as his church family,” Hodges said. “His children and grandchildren were in it, so it’s like keeping a little bit of his alive. His widow, Ms. Linda, and his family are still involved. It’s great. It’s like he’s still with us. We have a photo of him in the tower, so he’s watching over the tech crew.”
The drama, presented free to anyone who wants to attend, is financed by Piney Grove’s annual bazaar held the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Hodges said. That event offers crafts, food and yard-sale items.
“The Message of Easter” always draws a crowd, and audience members come from up and down the east coast, Hodges said. It isn’t unusual to see several buses in the parking lot on any given night.
“We’re just so grateful that after 31 years, people are still supporting us,” Hodges said. “We can’t wait each year to see where the farthest travelers are from.”
For more information, including directions on driving to the theater, visit www.messageofeaster.org.