EVERY LENTEN SEASON since 1963, worshipers and actors have gathered inside the 1870 limestone sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ—Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, for The Last Supper Drama.
It is, says 2012 co-director Pauline Wiegrefe, a moving, emotional Palm Sunday drama that puts participants and attendees “in the mindset of Holy Week.”
Sunday, April 1, marks the 50th anniversary presentation of the drama penned by long-ago St. John’s pastor the Rev. Walter C. Rasche. He wrote the script while serving in an Indiana parish and brought it with him to Minnesota. When Rasche left St. John’s in 1969, The Last Supper Drama tradition continued.
The script, which features 12 men positioned like the disciples in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting and then speaking individually about their relationships with Christ, has remained unchanged in five decades.
Likewise, the same hymn, “Here, Oh My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face,” continues as the single participatory musical selection. Craig Keller, drama organist, plays the same taped mood-setting organ music he’s used since 1968. Prior to that, introductory music emitted from a record player stationed behind the altar.
For original cast member and life-long St. John’s member Luverne Hafemeyer, 84 of Northfield, the drama is, he says, an emotional and inspirational experience that prepares him for Easter.
As a young farmer, Luverne jumped at the opportunity to join the original 1963 cast. During his high school years, except for an annual Youth Fellowship play presented in the nearby Nerstrand Town Hall, he had never acted. Farm work and gas rationing during WW II kept him from participating in high school activities.
But once Luverne joined The Last Supper Drama cast, he stayed on for 15 – 20 performances, finally relinquishing his role as James just five years ago. (Casts alternate from year to year.) He still helps sometimes with lighting and the post performance coffee hour.
His lines, however, remain engrained in his memory: “I am James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of John…”
Like Luverne 50 years ago, all of today’s actors at this rural church come from a farm background. Co-director Pauline remembers her father, Arnold Keller, and her brother Keith practicing their lines while milking cows.
Actors, past and present, will be recognized during the 50th anniversary presentation set for 8 p.m. this Sunday inside the old stone church.
FYI: St. John’s United Church of Christ is located eight miles east of Faribault on Minnesota Highway 60 and then two miles north on Rice County Road 24 at 19086 Jacobs Avenue.
Visit the church website by clicking here.
To read a blog I posted about last year’s The Last Supper Drama, click here. You’ll find many more images of the drama posted here.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling