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Drive-thru drama brings Easter story to life

By Jessica Brodie

COLUMBIA—For more than 25 years, one church in the Midlands has been sharing the story of Jesus in a unique and wholly accessible way: through a drive-thru Easter drama open to the public.

Rehoboth United Methodist Church, Columbia, started “The Week that Changed the Whole World,” An Easter Drive-Thru Drama, sometime in the 1990s—no one is quite certain when. And since then the production has expanded. Other churches in the area help, and it features eight different live-action scenes depicting the last days of Jesus, all in the church’s parking lot.

“The parking lot winds and twists, and every time you weave you get a scene,” said L.W. Smith, the drama coordinator. “There’s the Garden of Gethsemane, then Simon carrying the cross with Jesus with the guards pushing them, then Golgotha, and then make a sharp right, and you turn that corner and see the empty tomb and it’s nothing but new life.”

Rehoboth is a small church, with what Smith estimates are 35 active members, so the production is a church-wide affair. Almost everyone helps, whether acting in the scenes, helping to direct traffic, providing refreshments or handing out robes and other costumes.

“It sounds like a cliché but it’s really the week that changed the world, the most important week in eternity, and this is a way to commemorate and remember it,” said Dave Petty, a member of Rehoboth who is participating in the trial scene.

Forrest Horn, a Rehoboth member who is part of the Last Supper scene, said he’s amazed year after year at what they all manage to put together. But what is even more exciting is the message itself, the entirety of the Gospel.

“What people maybe don’t really think about is that at each stage of the drive-thru, Jesus is there,” Horn said. “It’s Jesus at the Last Supper, in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the denial. You get to see personally every facet of Jesus’s life.”

That’s what hits volunteer Sherry Smoak so powerfully—the fact that they are bringing the direct message of Easter and the meaning of salvation directly to the people, many of whom don’t always know the full story.

“After seeing and hearing the people come through, it honestly just shook me to my core because so many of them had never heard of Jesus. It’s just heart wrenching,” Smoak said.

One little boy who saw the actors taunting Jesus asked why they were doing something so mean to another person, and Smoak said they took a moment with the little boy and taught him the story, about how it was a bad thing that turned into a very good thing.

“So many people come through that don’t know or haven’t heard the complete story or don’t understand it was for them,” Smoak said. “It’s just amazing.”

Some cars drive through once, then turn and come back through again and again to see and understand.

Smith said several other churches help each year, some sending one or two people and some sending many. Windsor UMC participates, as does Bethel UMC, and usually Wesley and a couple from Washington Street. A small group from Northside Baptist is helping this year. Every year more people seem to want to be involved.

The pandemic forced them to cancel last year, and Smith and the others are excited to get out there this year. Their pastor, the Rev. Meegian Gossard, is new this year and hasn’t yet seen the drama, but she’s heard plenty and can’t wait to see the fruits of her congregation’s labor.

“I’m really proud of them. This is something they’re so passionate about,” Gossard said.

Smith said one of the nicest things besides the evangelism aspect is knowing it’s one thing everyone in the church plays a part in, whether they are praying about the event or there onsite.

“It’s not professionally done, but when you leave you know the story,” Smith said.

Petty agreed.

“At the exit you’re always running across people who don’t know the story and it’s just really opened their eyes,” Petty said. “You never know, but all you can do is plant the seed and leave it up to the Holy Spirit to do the work.”

“The Week that Changed the Whole World,” An Easter Drive Thru Drama, will be held April 8 and 9 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Rehoboth UMC, 6911 Two Notch Rd., Columbia. All are welcome to drive through the event. Please enter from Two Notch Rd. heading south toward Columbia. Because of the winding travel route, large buses are restricted, but small church buses and vans are OK. Walking travelers are permitted. For more information, email office@rumcsc.com or call 803-788-2220.

Want to go?

“The Week that Changed the Whole World,” An Easter Drive-Thru Drama, will be held April 8 and 9 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Rehoboth UMC, 6911 Two Notch Rd., Columbia. All are welcome to drive through the event. Enter from Two Notch Rd. heading south. For more information, email office@rumcsc.com or call 803-788-2220.

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