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Church Play Tradition Continues After Major Fire

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BELLEVILLE, IL (KTVI)-- Millions of Christians around the world and here in St. Louis are celebrating Holy Week.  Every year, St. Matthew United Methodist Church in Belleville puts on production called 'The Joy of Easter.'

More than 250 volunteers, including actors, choir members and a live orchestra take part.  The Passion Play follows Jesus Christ leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.  Hank Oplinger is the Minister of Music and Worship, "We tell the Gospel story that`s why we do it."

In 1994, the entire congregation faced a tragedy that could threaten anyone`s faith.  A halogen light inside the tomb caught some fabric on fire and in minutes the entire sanctuary was in flames.

Scott Ferguson also works for the church. "We were getting our makeup and costumes together when they came and told us the church was on fire and of course we thought we`ll be able to come back in a few minutes later, that it was minor," he stated.

It was anything but minor, the fire caused more than million dollars in damages.  Church members united, the building was repaired and in four months St. Matthew reopened.

'The Joy of Easter' continues every year and thousands of people go to see it.  Hank Oplinger said, "We changed everything, the way we do lighting, there`s no lighting on the set it`s all from a distance."

The tragedy made the congregation close. Oplinger added, "People, there was a real bond that drew the church together although we had a beautiful church building it isn`t about the church it`s about the people and the love we have for the Lord and each other."

The performances continue through Friday night and it is free.