The first weekend of December, folks attending a play at Lakeside Baptist Church in Milledgeville will see a slightly different take on one of the Christmas season’s most well-known curmudgeons.
Many aspects of the classic story “A Christmas Carol” remain. Ebenezer Scrooge begins a miser. He doesn’t value his assistant, Bob Cratchit. Three ghosts visit him on a pivotal Christmas Eve. At the end of it all, he makes a vow to become a different man.
There’s a difference here, though. A big one.
In “The Gospel According to Scrooge” – written in 1981 – the lead character makes a confession of faith in Christ, asks for forgiveness, and beings a new life of redemption.
Lakeside member John Gilmore first portrayed the lead character at his Houston church in the late 80s, doing so twice. When work in the oil and gas industry took Gilmore and his wife, Joy, overseas the couple introduced the play to others. First came the Netherlands. Later, they would do so again in Trinidad.
And whether presented in Texan, Dutch, or Caribbean accents, the message of hope resonated.
“I call it a dramatic musical comedy,” says Gilmore. “We consider it an offering to the community instead of a performance. It’s unapologetically entertaining, and unapologetically presents the gospel.”
The gospel presented in various ways
“When John and Joy first came to our church a number of years ago, they talked about this particular ministry,” remembers Tim Oliver, Lakeside’s pastor. The play reflected Oliver’s view of outreach, saying, “I try to be open to present the gospel in our community through various ways.
“It’s a lot of work and requires around 50 people to do it, between the cast and crew as well as others helping in areas like hospitality and parking.”
The level of involvement becomes remarkable when considering Lakeside averages 160 in Sunday School and 225 in worship. Church members’ connection to each other, says Oliver, spills over into the audience. Indeed, Lakeside members are encouraged to bring friends who haven’t given their lives to Christ.
To that end, if it comes to giving up your seat, then so be it.
Ministry opportunities continue following the night’s final bow. After the play, homemade cookies and brownies accent a meet-and-greet with actors.
“It’s really cool,” says Oliver. “Kids and adults connect with a character on stage and then get to talk to them afterwards. Other volunteers lead prayers groups and follow-up teams for those who made decisions. We work on developing those relationships.”
An offering to God
“It’s a play, but more so a missions offering to God,” adds David Self, associational missionary for Washington Baptist Association. Self’s wife and daughter are involved in the play, and exemplify the time commitment needed.
“[The cast and crew] give up a lot of their time to do this well. It tells the story of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ but adds more to it. Change doesn’t occur with a change of heart, but when Christ makes a difference in your life.”
Lakeside performed the play in 2009, 2010, and 2012. This year will be the first since then, due to various reasons around the Gilmores’ ability to lead its production. The biggest detour came following Joy Gilmore’s diagnosis of, battle with, and victory over Stage II ovarian cancer.
As Scrooge, John appears on stage around 95 percent of the time. Understandably, his focus needed to be elsewhere. And for a message like this to have maximum impact, focus is required.
John Gilmore says it’s worth it.
“A large number of people won’t come to church for normal church stuff,” he expresses. “Maybe just for Easter and Christmas, but that’s it. This is for people to invite others. It’s entertaining and fun. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve done it.”
It’s a physical role, though. The 61-year-old Gilmore admits his knees remind him of that fact more often, and louder, these days.
Our connection with Scrooge
In addition to Scrooge’s encounter with the gospel, the story’s narrative also places the role of Bob Cratchit as not only Scrooge’s employee but his nephew. Oliver will reprise his performance as Cratchit. Having seen visitors respond to its message before, he looks forward to Dec. 1-3.
“Throughout this play you see examples of the gospel leading Scrooge to change. In him, we see our humanity reflected. We recognize that although we may not act like him on the outside, on the inside we feel like it.
There’s an identification with the lostness of Scrooge. But, we realize there’s hope for us.”