The new leadership team of the Great Passion Play met with former employees, volunteers and potential volunteers and employees on Monday night, gathering their information and running down the list of where help is most needed in the immediate future.
Officials there also announced a few new events at the Passion Play grounds, beginning with a gigantic yard sale, auction and crafts show slated for March 15-16, the weekend of the opening of Pine Mountain Theater. Organizers are seeking donations of items to be sold, and anyone may set up booths to sell their wares at the yard sale and show if they donate a portion of their revenue that day to the play.
The Easter Sunday Resurrection service will be brought back to life this year, and will take place at 7 a.m. on Sunday, March 31 in the amphitheater, play officials said. Also announced was a new "Celebrate Jesus" Parade through downtown that will occur on Saturday, March 30. (See story on Page 4.)
Monday night's meeting was also a sort of pep rally, with new Board President Randall Christy and Chairman of the Board Keith Butler recounting how they met and how "God brought them together" to help save the Passion Play from foreclosure at the end of last month.
Additionally, Christy noted that tour group interest in coming to the play this year is soaring: Last year, the play brought in only about 60 tour groups, and already this year management has made contact with "more than twice that many" wanting to book trips here, he said. "So we have some very strong indicators that God is already touching some hearts" where the play is concerned, Christy said.
New Director of Volunteerism Danny Hester spoke and asked the attendees to fill out an information sheet indicating whether they were available for any of the following urgent needs: making phone calls; painting; indoor cleaning; outdoor cleanup; repair work on vehicles; repair work on buildings; or other. They were also asked to indicate their former jobs at the play, the preferred jobs in the future, and their skills, as well as their contact information.
Hester also asked the attendees to help spread the word by calling "every church they can find a phone number for" and let them know the Passion Play is still open.
"We already know it's God's will for the Passon Play to survive, so let's pray now for provision," Hester added.
Butler, who is the only member of the former management team to stay on with the play, recounted the point at which he realized late last fall that the play was in grave danger of foreclosure.
"I sat at the gate and asked, 'Lord, how can this be? All these years the Gospel has been represented so faithfully here. How does it come to this?" Butler said Monday. He didn't get an answer that day, he says, but not long after that, he had a voice mail from a man named Tom Bush in Oklahoma, who was with the Gospel Station Network, and he wanted to meet and talk about the Passion Play.
The meeting was arranged -- and then Randall Christy showed up instead of Bush. The two work together and have been ministry partners for years, Christy has since said.
"In the process of a few hours of talking and praying," Butler recalled about that first meeting, "I witnessed a connection point, and we came to the conclusion that it was God's will for the play to go on, and we wanted to be used however He wanted to use us."
Within a few days, as Christy mounted and spearheaded the emergency fundraising campaign in late December, Butler said he began to see a miracle occur, as donations began pouring in from all over the country. "One of my most exciting duties now is going to the mailbox," he said, only half-joking.
Now, the challenge is pulling together a team of volunteers who are willing to work for free for a little while -- until enough funds are raised to begin to hire staff back.
Christy emphasized that even the management is working for free for the time being.
"It is not going to be this way forever" he said, noting that employees would be hired back well before opening day on May 3. "But right now it's exciting to see people wanting and willing to help. How many believe we will have the victory in this?"
Christy then led the group in singing "Victory in Jesus."
New Chief Operations Officer and play Executive Director Dick Kelsey also spoke to the group, noting that he had appointed Kent Butler, a longtime employee of the play and Keith Butler's son, as the assistant executive director. Kelsey said he plans to be traveling a lot speaking to churches and drumming up groups to come visit the play, and "if I'm not here, there will be someone here now to make important decisions on day-to-day operations," he explained, referring to Kent Butler's new position.
Kelsey also gave every attendee his email address and cell phone number on a personal business card. "I have learned a lot the last few days but I have a lot more to learn," he said, and he asked for ongoing input and ideas from the attendees.
Kelsey also promised that everything about the management of the play -- including the play's finances -- would be more open. "We're going to tell you where we're at, how much money we're bringing in and where we stand," he said. He added that the new management intended to stay current on the play's debts and monthly bills, and, for example, suppliers to the gift shop would be paid immediately after goods were sold instead of several months later. "It's wrong to wait months to pay your suppliers if you sell those goods," Kelsey said.
The COO also pledged accountability among all the staff, and said that those who were not doing their jobs well would be addressed, helped to do better, and/or replaced if necessary. "If someone isn't doing their job, we will find out why. If they can't do it, we will have to find someone who can. That's just reality."
Finally, Kelsey thanked the employees and volunteers for their service and spoke of a potential reward -- a tangible one at that.
"Your faithfulness over the years needs to be honored. If God blesses us, we will use some sort of bonus system at the end of the season" to reward our employees, he said.
Anyone interested in volunteering, donating to or working at the Passion Play this season should visit their website, www.GreatPassionPlay.org, or call 800-882-7529.