It is not unusual for a church to present a Christmas play or pageant, but it’s not every day that the author of the play is the pastor.
This is the case with Faith Baptist Church located off South Franklin Road in Mount Airy and its production of “The Best Christmas Ever.” The play debuted last Sunday morning and will be presented again on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. each day in the church sanctuary, with the performances free and open to the public.
The play was written by the Rev. Randy Edwards, who has led the congregation at Faith Baptist since 1983 while dabbling in writing over the years.
“I’ve written a couple of books,” he said Tuesday, and even plays. “I’ve written some others, but not to this modern-day family scenario as much as this,” Edwards added regarding the subject matter of his latest work.
In other words, “The Best Christmas Ever” is not your grandparents’ holiday play typically staged within the walls of a church.
There certainly are no “Peanuts”-type characters to be found in the cast — instead dysfunctional American family members dealing with enough adult-oriented issues to fuel several daytime dramas.
Rather than sparkling lights and mistletoe, there is the father of the Acorn family, who is infatuated with pornography, with his wife battling an addiction to pills. Hints of child molestation and other darker subjects are delved into in the plot, along with elements of domestic violence and financial distress surrounding the family.
However, all this was done with a specific purpose in mind, according to Edwards.
“It is our desire to show the power of the Christmas Story, and how it can affect lives today,” the pastor explained.
Edwards said it’s one thing to preach about modern problems in the context of a sermon while trying to convince people to lead better lives. Sometimes they just have to be shown this through a vehicle such as a play, which can deliver the message much more powerfully.
“I really believe that seeing something helps people get the message so much better than we can send it with just our words,” the pastor continued.
“As a church, we’re trying to minister to people where they are,” he said of addressing the real-life problems some families are coping with, “so they can move from that to something better in their lives.”
And thus “The Best Christmas Ever” was born.
The meticulously prepared script for “The Best Christmas Ever” includes this disclaimer to the audience early on as voiced by a narrator: “We would like to warn you there is some very adult content presented — however, we are keeping it vague enough not to cause issues for the younger, but also clear enough for you to see what is being portrayed.”
As the author of any production will admit, the Rev. Edwards — who also appears as the father, Mr. Acorn, in the play — says he was a bit anxious Sunday morning when it debuted and wondering how the audience seeing the play for the first time would react.
“When we did it Sunday morning, you could hear the oohs and aahs,” Edwards said.
But, he said, “we were getting the reaction we were hoping.”
Despite the depressing content that envelops the central characters of “The Best Christmas Ever,” it does conclude on a positive note as the title suggests, which is one of salvation. After all, what holiday play ends tragically?
As the family members go through their various difficulties, they find themselves at a church — to attend a holiday event that for purposes of the plot serves as a play within a play similar to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
The family is exposed to the Christmas Story and the birth of Jesus, along with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. This provides scenarios that attendees of church holiday plays are more accustomed to seeing, including the obligatory manger scene.
All this serves as a catalyst for the Acorn family to embrace Christ and lead a better life while also trying to support each other in recovering from their various societal ills.
While the story calls for the Acorn family members to join together at the altar, the script for “The Best Christmas Ever” also has a real-life tie-in. This includes an invitation for anyone who was watching to come forward in a similar manner after it concludes.
And this is what occurred after last Sunday’s initial performance, Edwards said, which indicates that the play’s intended message got through.
He said the reaction to the production from the congregation of Faith Baptist, which was formed in the late 1970s and now has about 175 people among its ranks, has been “really positive” overall.
Putting on the play has required the involvement of about 40 people, either as cast members or handling behind-the-scenes tasks such as lighting. Many in the church were thankful for the opportunity to stage the production, even though its subject matter made rehearsals difficult at times, Edwards says.
Many people have devoted their time and talents to “The Best Christmas Ever,” which also includes video clips being spliced in to help move the story along.
And more than a month of rehearsals and other preparations led up to the weekend premiere.
“When Halloween was over, it went full-blast after that,” the pastor said of the production.
Edwards is pleased by how everything has come together with a play that combines a classic dramatic element: the fight by good to overcome evil.
“I thought this would be real to people.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.