The sermon at St. John United Methodist Church this Sunday won’t be preached – it’ll be sung.
The church is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the St. John Choir Camp and on Sunday will present The Tale of Three Trees, a musical by Tom Long and Allen Pote, during the service.
“It’s a sermon in itself,” said Jamie Council Garvey, the church’s organist and director of music. “The sermon is a musical by the children.”
Long, a guest actor, stage director and playwright, is returning to the church for a second year. Last year, children from the community came to the camp to learn his musical about David and Goliath called The Rock Slinger and His Greatest Hit.
This year’s sermon musical is based on a traditional folktale, The Tale of the Three Trees, about three trees that “grow up” to be used as wood in Jesus’ manger, boat and cross.
“The theme is that whoever would be great among you must become a servant,” Garvey said. “It’s what Mother Teresa said, that you can do small things with great love.”
The 40 children participating in the camp learn the production in six days with the help of a handful of adults and teenage volunteers.
On Thursday afternoon at the church, Long worked with a few dozen of the children on a rap that is included in the service. The rap, he joked, is from the “Revised Hip Hop Version,” and has lyrics including, “If you think you’re big, if you think you’re small, remember the Word is the same for all,” and, “In the body of Christ no part is best, if we love each other and serve the rest.”
Long is the director and playwright behind the Ohio-based Friends of the Groom Christian drama group and has collaborated with Pote to publish several full-length musicals for children and youth.
“I think by doing the stories from the Bible, you internalize them,” he said. “They mean more to children when they act them out and participate in them.”
Children, Long said, are especially good at conveying a passion for Scripture.
“They just have so much energy,” he said. “No matter how tired they look at the end of the day, they come back tomorrow and give it their all. They come alive.”