Marcy Mittelstadt planned to call an upcoming session at Mount Zion United Methodist Church "Liturgical Drama Workshop."
But Friends of the Groom, a Christian drama group leading the workshop, had other ideas for a title that would express more of the group's mix of humor with biblical teaching.
"Beyond Bathrobes - Christian Drama and Storytelling" will meet in January, and Mittelstadt, Mount Zion church's director of music ministries, is inviting the community.
"There are so many things you can do in worship to reach people, and sometimes we are afraid of them, because we think they might be too 'out there,'" Mittelstadt said. "But there are more ways to teach people other than just standing and delivering a reading."
Mittelstadt has long admired Friends of the Groom and the work of its director, Tim Long, a well-known author of children's musicals and librettos for choir cantatas. "Just having him here is like the guru of liturgical drama coming to North Carolina," she said.
Mittelstadt has used Long's children's musical "The Tale of the Three Trees" in programs at Mount Zion in Cornelius.
Since 1980, Friends of the Groom has led workshops and performed original Christian plays all over the United States. The group's name refers to the New Testament image of Jesus Christ as the bridegroom.
The group focuses on telling stories by blending humor with challenging content.
"I've always wanted to have (Friends of the Groom) at the church I was serving," Mittelstadt said. "As my youth here are growing in ability, I really wanted them to see what can be done and where to set their sights."
Mittelstadt now works weekly with six to 10 youth from sixth grade through high school. The group has performed in worship and outside church.
In a society that increasingly relies on visual learning, liturgical drama can grab people's attention in ways that traditional readings don't.
"We're trying to show our youth ways they can be an important part of learning and the worship process," Mittelstadt said. "It's showing them different ways you can tell a story on Sunday morning."
Mittelstadt said the youth in her drama group have become more self-confident, and drama has given them a way to express their thoughts and views on faith.
The youth drama group led the church's recent Hanging of the Greens service, in which the congregation helped decorate the sanctuary for Christmas. Mittelstadt said she was proud of the way the youth handled the chaos of younger children helping, rearranging their staging and their lines when needed.
"I was just amazed at the poise they had, the insight they had," she said. "It wasn't just memorized words anymore. It was sharing their faith."
All youth and adults interested in learning practical tools for drama and storytelling in worship and Christian education are invited to "Beyond Bathrobes," from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 8 at Mount Zion UMC in Cornelius.
The cost is $10 per person, which includes lunch. Advance registration is required; contact Mittelstadt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-892-8566.
In addition, Friends of the Groom will present a free performance for the community at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 at the church's Family Life Center.