An Easter Trail at St. David's

Eastham has been a village for centuries, and retains it's historic parish church. After the second world war, a large council estate was constructed as part of re-housing efforts in nearby Birkenhead. St. David's United Reformed Church was founded at this time and has been worshipping in the area ever since. The current church and hall building complex were built in the 1960s, and as such are not typical “church” architecture.
Outside of St. David's Church

Today there is a relatively small Sunday congregation (less than 40 members on the roll), a monthly Messy Church, and other affiliated groups using the premises. From this base it was obviously necessary to stage the Easter Trail in a way which was within our resources. We had the advantage that the church building is not heavily used (unlike the hall) and so with some negotiation we were able to have complete occupation of the church for a three-week period. This gave us a week (and weekend) either side of the Easter Trail sessions themselves to set up and dismantle the trail, making it easier for those with full-time jobs to be involved.
To convey the the key aspects of the Easter story, we thought four scenes were necessary (others have had more scenes). These were:
  1. The Upper Room, scene of The Last Supper
  2. The Garden of Gethsemane
  3. Golgotha, scene of the Crucifixion
  4. The Resurrection Garden, scene of the Empty Tomb.
Inside St. David's Church
Through these the key events from the last supper through Jesus's anguish, Crucifixion and Resurrection over the 4 days at the end of Holy Week can be told. Inevitably there are omissions and compressions in doing this, but there is also a limit to the amount which the audience can be expected to take in, emotionally and intellectually.

Unlike many traditional church buildings, St. David's has large windows on both sides and the liturgical west end, making it a very light space and impossible to black out in the conventional theatre manner. Although the pews are not fixed to the floor, they are large and heavy enough to make moving them out of the building impossible, so we were limited to re-arranging them on their normal floor space. Usefully, the communion table is not fixed and relatively light so it can be re-arranged as required.
A large Gazebo / tent set up within the church provided the setting for the Upper Room, giving a sense of indoor space and scale which the open church does not necessarily have. We told the story of this scene from the perspective of the wife of the man who owned the room, who was hosting the passover meal.

From here, pews were moved to line a walk-way taking the audience through the streets of Jerusalem to Gethsemane. Black fabric screening (supported on the pews) gave tall enough walls that it was not possible for the audience to see out across the church.
Gethsemane was staged in the vestry, as the only place in the church which could be successfully blacked out (as the windows are much smaller and lower than the main church). This scene did not have any cast, but rather relied upon soundtrack and lightning to convey the experience of hearing Jesus praying in the Garden, then his arrest by the soldiers who take him away. From here the audience come back out at the front of the church.
The open area created by moving the communion table was used to stage Golgotha. The centre piece of this was the white front wall of the church, lit red using floodlights. In front of this stood a large dark cross in near silhouette. This was enclosed on both sides by tall black stage flats (borrowed from the hall). This (with the back and top open) did not shut out all the light, but removed direct sunlight. The story hear was told by the disciple Peter, watching in fear from a distance as his Lord and Master is crucified, but too afraid to approach the Cross after his betray of the night before.
The audience move back out into the streets of Jerusalem, where the storyteller explains the passage forward in time from Friday to the Sunday morning, before carrying on to the garden where Jesus' body had been laid in the tomb.
The final scene is the Resurrection Garden, where the audience are met by Mary Magdalene, who has discovered the empty tomb and encountered the risen Jesus walking in the garden. The Garden was formed from a set of pale blue display boards (which form the background and sky) with a carpet of potted plants and flowers. The scene was positioned to make maximum use of the natural light in the church, backed up by bright floodlighting to cope with grey days, and ensured this was an uplifting end to the experience, before the audience left via the door they came in through.

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