Now that a week has passed, how much of last Sunday's sermon can you recall?

If you answered "not much" or "nothing at all," take heart.

Several area churches are experimenting with what is perhaps a livelier way of making a point and making it stick: the play.

And while there is no evidence that theater is about to replace church services, religious drama is catching on as a complement to more traditional ways of teaching Christian doctrine.

The idea of ministry through drama certainly is not new.

"It started in early Greek religious rites," explained the Rev. Lawrence Glassco, minister of Heritage United Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, "where temple priests presented drama in the arena."

In tracing the history of religious drama, Glassco told how the Romans stamped out all drama in the Christian church when Greece fell to Rome, but during medieval times it was used to teach morality to the illiterate. The wheel turned again during the Puritan era when the body was looked on as obscene. Now religious drama is making a comeback, said Glassco.

The VIC Players, an amateur theater group in the Mount Vernon community and Glassco's brainchild, opened last night at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Alexandria with the Neil Simon comedy, "God's Favorite."

The play, based loosely on the biblical story of Job, also will be performed on March 12, 18, 19 and 25 at a different church each night.

As clergy adviser to the VIC Players, nobody has to convince Glassco of the effectiveness of drama in church ministry. "People always say, 'I felt just like Jack in that play,' " explained Glassco. "But people never say, 'I felt just like what you said in your sermon.' "

This band of more than 50 actors and actresses is sponsored by Ventures in Community, a 10-year-old organization of ministers and lay persons from approximately 20 Mount Vernon area Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. Referred to simply as "VIC" in the community, taking the name "VIC Players" seemed natural.

Beth Hopkins, who chairs VIC this year in addition to being a VIC player, said of the parent organization: "VIC started out as a group of educators emphasizing teacher training rather than theology. That has changed to world hunger projects, peace studies and community stations of the cross."

It was at VIC's monthly meeting in November 1981 that Glassco suggested a community drama program. VIC wanted to earn money for a world hunger project affiliated with the National Council of Churches called CROP. It was about to sponsor a play outside the community, when Glassco had a better idea.

"Why do we have to go to the city to see a play when we have the resources to put one on ourselves?" Glassco wanted to know.

Things moved slowly at first. It wasn't until Joan Patterson asked Glassco what she could do to help that plans for the musical comedy "Hannah" got under way.

Now Patterson is president of the VIC Players and when she isn't convening meetings, writing newsletters, searching for good plays, new talent and more equipment, she finds time to direct, produce and act.

Choosing a play is the biggest headache, according to Glassco, mainly because it is a balancing act. "We have conservatives, liberals, Catholics, Protestants, blacks and whites," explained Glassco. "The play can't be offensive to any one group and must still be good."

Patterson said of "Hannah," which she directed and produced in May 1982, "It must have had a hundred different moral issues. It addressed the race issue, the handicap issue, the elderly, reconciliation, poverty, wealth, what church choirs are all about, and what Christianity is all about."

The committee that chooses plays does have some guidelines. "Most of us are family people," said Patterson. "We feel like we should do family entertainment. We sort of feel like it the play should say something."

But scripts don't have to be "preachy" to be acceptable. When people think of religious drama, it conjures up for them "a bunch of kids running around in bathrobes," said Glassco laughing.

" 'God's Favorite' is about someone definitely dedicated to God, but it's not so heavy that people would yawn," remarked Patterson.

The VIC Players' second effort, "The Curious Savage," a comedy by John Patrick, ran in the fall of 1982 and carried the message of "compassion and empathy with people in trouble," said Glassco. "Hannah" and "Savage" together brought in a total of $700 for CROP.

The board of VIC players decided recently that the group would donate half the proceeds of "God's Favorite" to United Christian Ministries (UCM), a local emergency crises intervention center. The shift from supporting an international organization to a local one was made as much for survival as anything else.

Jo Murray, a board member and play publicist, said, "We decided perhaps a lot more people would come to see us if their money was going to a local cause."

Eleanor Kennedy, executive director of UCM, was "thrilled to death" that her agency would be the recipient of half the play's proceeds. "I haven't committed it the money to anything," said Kennedy. "Wherever the greatest need is, that's where the money goes." The other half of the proceeds will be kept by the VIC Players to purchase equipment and develop resources for the group.

Master Sgt. Ed Jones of Fort Belvoir Chapel, who is director of "God's Favorite" but is usually cast as a villain, described the VIC Players as "a magnificent cross section of the community." The group includes professional men and women, housewives, high school and college students, military personnel, the elderly and of course, Catholics and Protestants.

"One of the best things that has come out of this is the ecumenical aspect," said Shirley Bolstad, a Methodist. Bolstad, who played the lead role in "Hannah" and is assistant director of "God's Favorite," said, "We are learning more about other people's churches."

Murray, who is Catholic, agreed. "With my background and the way I was brought up, I was never encouraged to mingle with people from different churches. Now I see we all have the same needs."

What makes drama work where the more traditional homily has failed?

Patterson believes the secret is in getting and holding others' attention. "You can tell a story with a play," she explained. "You can get someone's attention with live actors on a stage."

"It works because it's media," said Jones. "We're inundated with all kinds of media messages that we're programmed to respond to from the time we're kids."

Glassco conceded that not everybody is ready to leave the familiarity of pew for front-row center. "There are always a few people who aren't ready for it, who think it doesn't belong."

But play director Jones isn't about to argue with success. "One of the things that's irrefutable is that it drama works."

Future performances of "God's Favorite:" March 12 at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 8710 Mount Vernon Hwy. in Alexandria; March 18 at the Sousa Recreation Center, Building 200 on Fort Belvoir Rd., Fort Belvoir; March 19 at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, 2006 Belle View Blvd., Alexandria; and March 25 at Heritage United Presbyterian Church, 8503 Fort Hunt Rd. in Alexandria. All performances are at 8 p.m. Admission is $3.