But one of the church’s former members, who I will call Emma, was fostering a dream of starting something new: a community theatre. Together with her nephew, they began putting on plays with local talent at the town hall. As the theatre grew in popularity, they needed room to grow and Emma approached the diocese about whether they might purchase the abandoned church. Donors came forward and a deal was struck with the diocese. One stipulation was that, because the building had been decommissioned for use as a church, it could not be used for Catholic worship services of any kind. Of course, this wasn’t a problem for Emma and her theatre group, and they continued to flourish and grow. The church basement became home for the annual Halloween Haunted House fundraiser, the chancel ws re-constructed into a stage with proscenium and lighting, and the confessional was turned into a “concessional” where popcorn was sold. Once a hollow shell, the old church building is now attracting young and old volunteers to gather and generate positive energy for the community.
Not long ago, Emma passed away. A funeral mass was planned at her new church, a few miles outside of town, where many of the former members now attend. But Emma’s nephew made a special appeal to the priest: since the theatre was so instrumental in Emma’s life, he requested that the wake be held there. The priest agreed, and even came to the wake and performed a short service, among the many costumes Emma had sewn and the photos of all her beloved productions. It may not be a church anymore, but the community people who poured in to celebrate Emma’s life acknowledged that the holiness within that little church had not dissipated.
I have had the good fortune to perform on the stage of that theatre myself. The stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Jesus, Mary and Peter have been replaced by stories of fairies and kings and villains. But I never forget when I enter its doors that I am still walking on holy ground.