Pastors journey to the UMC through drama

Date Posted: 9/8/2022

By Maleri McHam
It was through a love of drama that Mindy and David Zwirn first found their way to the United Methodist Church.
Mindy, who was Catholic and distanced herself from the church in her 20s, and David, who had always been agnostic, today use their love for theater to spread ministry. Rev. Mindy Zwirn is the pastor at Chapelwood UMC in Nash, Texas and David is a lay pastor at Union Chapel UMC in Douglasville, Texas.
Before they joined the United Methodist Church, Mindy said she and her husband first joined the theater through a production of “A Christmas Carol” at FUMC Texarkana. When they heard auditions for this production were happening, she said they were skeptical because it was through a church but decided to go for it.
It was through this experience that Mindy and David gave Methodism a chance.

“Methodism is very much about open doors and open hearts,” Mindy said. “This particular pastor (at FUMC Texarkana) was very passionate about that, so he made us welcome in the church for this ministry, for theater, and never pushed us to align with his beliefs.”
“In so doing I felt like we were free to explore a relationship with Jesus again, to actually find out where our hearts were. That led us to participate in the church family and then led me to answer a call to ministry myself where I became a pastor all because of this welcoming atmosphere of theater ministry.”
Today Mindy and David work to apply theater to ministry when they can and are involved in the Biblical Drama Institute.

The BDI was formed a little over a year ago, said Hollis Thompson, BDI artistic director. The organization was established to add that missing piece of theater to ministry, he said.
“I saw theater used sporadically in the church,” Thompson said. “It’s not something like music that we use in worship every single Sunday.”
As someone who is into drama, Thompson said he often felt there was no place in the church for those involved in theater. In his experience, he said many theater people do not see the Bible as interesting and he wanted to change that misconception while also making the church more inclusive to these individuals.
“I wanted to fill that void and kind of show what good drama can do in terms of embodying the Biblical story,” Thompson said.

The BDI primarily applies drama to ministry through free productions for the community to enjoy, Thompson said. The organization is also available to perform, give dramatic readings and more at churches in the community.
“That is a ministry I think because there are people out there who would never step foot into a church service, but who may be persuaded to come see a play,” he said. “That's the kind of thing we want to create -- something that people can come to and enjoy and hopefully that will plant seeds into them.”
Those who are spectators of a Biblical performance are able to see the Bible come to life in a whole new way, Thompson said. It also allows those performing to fully invest themselves and experience the characters and scenes within the Bible.
The draw to theater ministry comes from “the idea of living inside a story, which I think anybody who wants to be a Christian person needs to be able to do,” Mindy said. “You need to do more than just read the words, you need to be able to put yourself inside of the story."
The BDI extends its ministry to those not a part of the church as well. The organization is open to anyone who wants to be a part of productions and welcomes people regardless of beliefs.

“We’ve seen a lot of people come to the church through theatre ministry that otherwise would not have ever set foot inside the church,” Mindy said.
“They come because we make them as welcome as possible and then they start asking questions like ‘tell us why you believe what you believe,’ and we dispense a lot of misconceptions.”
David said he never knew he could use his love of theater to further his relationship with God and reach others in the community. Any production done by BDI is open to all people and everyone gets included, he said.
“Doing theater ministry really opened my eyes to see how my skills and what I enjoy doing could be used as an outreach for church,” David said. “That was a new concept for me.”
A welcoming ministry
As someone who was agnostic before becoming Methodist, David said he knows how a welcoming community where you can be yourself and where others encourage you can have an impact on someone’s journey with Christ.
Theater is “a wonderful way of telling stories, being part of the story and expanding that out, showing people that they're already part of this wonderful story of life and being in the presence of God,” David said.
At this time, the BDI is working on a musical production of “Gabriel Grub” that will open the first week of December. Thompson said this is based on a short story by Charles Dickens.
“Gabriel Grub” is essentially like a first draft of “A Christmas Carol,” he said. In this version rather than ghosts, the main character is visited by Goblins.
While this is not a Biblical story, Thompson said the BDI believes it displays values found in scripture such as redemption and the meaning of Christmas.