Valdosta Daily Times

Features

March 17, 2013

‘To My Father’s Glory’

‘The Promise’ returns for 26th Easter season

VALDOSTA — Park Avenue United Methodist Church members have grown accustomed to people asking, how? How do they find the time each year to present the Easter extravaganza of “The Promise”?

After all, it takes hard work, sacrifice and time to present a musical telling of the life of Christ from birth to ascension. There’s the selection of new music, the decisions of what to leave in and what to leave out from year to year, the preparation of costumes for church members and transforming the sanctuary into a biblical landscape. There are the rehearsals, the marketing, the gathering of people on stage and back stage, and hosting the performances for several days in a row.

But in answering how, they often find themselves answering the question of why? Why the church continues with “The Promise.”

Publicity committee members Sharon Stalvey and Kitty Fricks point to the Bible, quoting chapter and verse: John 15:8. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

“It’s not about us,” Stalvey says. “It’s about the Father’s glory.”

Entering its 26th year, “The Promise” has also become an Easter staple for the Valdosta community. Based on past years’ attendance, hundreds of visitors will fill Park Avenue’s sanctuary in the coming week. “The Promise’s” success reflects the massive popularity of television’s current series “The Bible.” Though a familiar story, people seem hungry for these stories.

“Each year, it’s always the same story,” says Reese Nelson, “The Promise’s” director. “… The song ‘I Love to Tell the Story’ reveals how those who know it best are hungry to hear the story again. For Christians, there’s something reaffirming to hear the story and to present it again each year.”

Though Nelson may tell the same story, he always finds a new way to tell it. He tries different music. In the past, he’s arranged “The Promise” to be told from various perspectives; for example, one year, the story was told from the Virgin Mary’s perspective.

Discussing the production a few weeks prior to its opening, Nelson knows the direction of this year’s show, but he still weighs possibilities for the opening. He plans to open with a crowd scene. He likes the energy of a crowd scene, how it involves many cast members and deeply involves the audience from the show’s outset.  

At its outset, the show didn’t start as “The Promise.” In the late 1980s, Park Avenue United Methodist Church presented “God Hath Provided the Lamb,” a musical telling of the Passion for Easter. Created by Jim Perry, the production involved Park Avenue United Methodist Church members presenting the story of Jesus, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

When Perry died, the production could have stalled. There were only precious few weeks to prepare between his passing and Easter. The congregation persevered in honor of Jim Perry and its belief in the significance of the production. Without the show’s creator/director, Park Avenue United Methodist members presented “God Hath Provided the Lamb” on their own that year.

Reese Nelson was hired as the music minister and directed his first production of “God Hath Provided the Lamb” in 2001. As Nelson grew in the role, the production kept its original title and added “The Promise.” For the past several years, Park Avenue United Methodist Church’s Passion has been called “The Promise.”

The story comes each year for Easter.

“We’ll be presenting the performances during Holy Week. It’s an exciting time of the year,” Nelson says. “It is the time when people recognize the quintessential event of Christianity.”

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