published Monday, December 19th, 2011

Perfect typecasting

Area clergy appear in cameo roles for Theatre Centre play

The audience didn’t spook him, Anthony Baker said, but the possibility of blowing his lines did.

The Riverside Baptist pastor is one of nine area pastors or parachurch ministers who had or have cameo roles in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s holiday play, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

The comedy, which focuses on the hoodlum Herdman children learning about and joining in the annual church pageant, continues today and Tuesday through Friday.

The pastors portray the Rev. Hopkins in one scene in which he must confront Grace Bradley, the woman directing the pageant, about an incident that occurred at church.

Director Chuck Tuttle said the cameos are a perfect way to cast the pastor role.

“That adds a community feel to it,” he said. “It’s a great fit.”

Baker, 44, said his only real stage experience before last weekend came in church-type dramas such as a production he did at Central Baptist Church of Hixson (now Abba’s House).

“I was a little nervous,” he said. “You’d think being on-stage every day [in a pulpit] would prepare you for it.”

Nevertheless, Baker said, his scene went well.

“I was determined I was going to get a laugh, and I did,” he said. “I was thrilled.”

Frank Hobart, an Awana missionary in the Tennessee Valley for Awana Clubs International, said other than the narration for a Christmas pageant, the stage role he embodied last weekend was new for him.

“I guess all brand new actors have a little stage fright, a few butterflies,” he said. “But the lady I worked with [in the role of Grace Bradley] was really, really good.”

Hobart, 63, said although he speaks at churches nearly every Sunday, walking onto a stage is another thing.

“It’s quite a bit different than delivering a message,” he said, “but I really enjoyed doing it. And I look forward to doing it again sometime.”

Jeff Mathis, associate pastor at First Baptist Chattanooga, made his debut on the CTC stage Friday. Last week, he said it had been 10 years “since I made a fool of myself.”

“To suggest I don’t get somewhat of an adrenaline rush [at a pulpit or on a stage] would be inaccurate,” he said. “But I’m drawn to communicating publicly. I’ll probably always be excited.”

Mathis, 37, said CTC officials made it easy for him by telling him he didn’t have to memorize his lines — that he could use a page of script as a prop.

But he said he’d likely do “some prep work” and learn the “five or six lines.”

“If I don’t get it right, that could be a bit anxious,” the First Baptist clergyman said. “But it should make for a fun evening if I don’t flub it up.”

Other pastors/ministry leaders who agreed to do a cameo are Jeff Anderle of The Vineyard, Anthony Chatman, Ray Williams of One Accord Community Church, Phil Varnell of Woodland Park Baptist, Joe Mulroney and Bob Leopold of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Baker and Hobart said they’d hadn’t heard of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” play or the original 1972 book by Barbara Robinson before being asked to do their scenes, but both said the experience was a blast.

“I wish every preacher could have the opportunity,” Baker said.

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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