Old Christmas stories given new twists in P.G. church productions

Video: On Sunday more than 5,000 people packed into the First Baptist Church of Glenarden to witness a jazzy urban contemporary take on the Christmas story.

Whether they watched it live in the sanctuary or from a monitor in one of 15 overflow rooms, more than 5,000 people packed every open space of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden Sunday to witness a jazzy urban contemporary remake of the Christmas story.

And while the Virgin Mary is normally portrayed as a quiet woman dressed in white and holding a baby, Brooklyn gospel singer Anaysha Figueroa-Cooper played her with attitude. Figueroa-Cooper’s Mary even confronted the Angel Gabriel with attitude after she was told that she was pregnant with the savior of the world.

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“Playing Mary has been really amazing, we put a 2013 spin on it,” said Figueroa-Cooper, who credited the success of the production to the play’s director Joshua Jenkins. Jenkins partnered with music director Anthony Brown to come with the score that shifted from the light-hearted to the graphic.

Keith Battle, a popular minister to young adults, said: “Using art and theater is another way to reach people who we wouldn’t reach any other way.”

“The idea was to make Jesus practical and tangible and something that people could relate too,” said Jenkins, who is also a Prince George’s County police officer. “We wanted to make the production in a plain uncut way so that people can grab what happen back when Jesus was born.”

While most of the play centered around the birth of Jesus, the most compelling moment came during a dialogue between two biblical characters that Jesus healed, a blind man named Bartemeus and the woman who was healed after she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. Tamara Sease, who played the woman, said: “This is my favorite story. I am her. She just wanted to see Jesus.”

In addition to Glenarden, Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro maintained its tradition of hosting Broadway-styled music productions called “Christmas Celebration 2013.” The event this year featured a stage full of nationally known gospel artists, live animals, lasers and sound effects. First Baptist production included gospel artist Isaac Caree, who played Joseph and Tasha Cobbs, who was a singing angel.

Indeed, the Central Avenue corridor has become its spiritual equivalent with Evangel, First Baptist and Reid Temple AME Church hosting big Christmas productions that featured gospel artists, a hug casts and new twists to an old bible story.

“We try to present our best for kingdom,” said Rev. John K. Jenkins, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. “People respect our ministry. We don’t try to halfway do things. People have no idea how many hours Joshua and Anthony put into present to God, excellence.”

 
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