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Photo courtesy of Joe Henderson

Joe Henderson

Photo courtesy of Joe Henderson

Annie Bennett portrayed Faith on the Termple Terrace United Methodist Church production of "Faith and the Manger." The play was written by Joe Henderson.

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I am United Methodist: Joe Henderson

By Polly House
March-April 2017

Joe Henderson is a talented writer.

He worked more than 40 years in the newspaper business as an award-winning sports writer, covering such big events as the Final Four, World Series, the Olympics and several Super Bowls.

"I was living the dream because I love sports," Henderson said. "But God asked, 'What are you doing for me? I gave you the gift."

Henderson is also a long-time member of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida. About 15 years ago, he got involved in the church's drama ministry.

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"I used to fool around in community theater," Henderson said. "I knew enough to get myself in trouble. I had never directed, but our pastor asked me to. We did two performances, both full."

But after that, the drama ministry folded.

"When the new regime came in, the new pastor didn't see the benefit of drama," Henderson said. "It fell into disrepair. But nine years later when (the Rev.) St. Clair Moore came, he was open."

The church purchased and downloaded scripts from several websites, but Henderson said he believed he could do better.

In February 2016, Henderson had the idea for an audience participation play set on Maundy Thursday.

"When I told Pastor Moore about it, he said, ‘Do it.' So, I wrote it," Henderson said. "I can't say enough good things about him. He gets it. Of course, Pastor Moore likes to know what's going on in his church, so I would give him copies of the scripts to read ahead of time. He told me after the first couple of times looking at the scripts that he doesn't want to read them ahead. He wants to be an audience member. I take that as a compliment and a responsibility."

After the Maundy Thursday drama, an audience member went up to one of the actors, hugged and thanked him, saying that was just what he needed.

"He actually hugged him," Henderson said. "We just looked at each other and said, ‘Wow.'"

It wasn't long until the pastor asked Henderson what he was going to write for Christmas!

Henderson wrote "Faith and the Manger," a current-day play about a variety of people and how they reacted to the manger.

Temple Terrace is a diverse church, and Henderson wanted the cast of "Faith and the Manger" to reflect that.

"Everyone interested in being involved came to a meeting," he said. "I passed out the script and explained each character. The people just sort of chose what they wanted to do, and we wound up with a good diverse mix."

Henderson makes allowances and otherwise works with his actors.

"They are not professional actors. They have other jobs, and they can't always be there for scheduled rehearsals. But we all do the best we can," he said.

But fine acting isn't the goal. "I tell the cast we aren't performing," he continued, "we are planting seeds."

Henderson gives a big shout-out to Patina Ripkey, the church's worship pastor.

"The drama really took off when she got involved," he said. "The first few were just plays, no music. Patina had been there about a year, and she asked, ‘Why not include some music in the play?' From her lips to my ears! She has a phenomenal singing voice and a magnetic personality. People want to be involved with her. Her choir members want to be involved. I think there would be a mutiny if we did one without music."

Polly House is a freelance writer and editor living in Nashville, Tennessee. She also serves as editorial assistant for Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.