Don C. Richter's formative moments

February 8, 2011

At age 12 I decided (with lots of encouragement) to become a
communicant member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Decatur,
Alabama. The communicant's class met with our pastor six Saturday
mornings for two-hour sessions. I don't recall specifics; by 1968 our
congregation no longer required memorizing the Shorter Catechism. But I
do remember how important and grown-up it felt having conversations
about faith in our pastor's study—not his office—surrounded by stacks of
well-worn commentaries and theology texts. A decade later I would
attend the same seminary that trained my pastor, reading some of those
same tomes I saw on his bookshelves.

It's one thing to admire
texts; it's another to perform them. In 1972, two high school friends
and I attended a performance of the off-Broadway musical Godspell.
Enthralled, the three of us lobbied to produce the play with our youth
group. Though the music score was widely available, royalties for the
book were prohibitive.

"You could just sing the songs," youth
advisers suggested. "But the songs won't make sense without the script,"
we argued. "Besides, we know where they got their material. We'll write
our own script!"

In crafting an adaptation of Godspell we
drew liberally on our memory of the professional cast's costume designs
and theater techniques. We also drew liberally on scripture, immersing
ourselves in the parables and passion stories of Jesus, reading our own
lives into these ancient tales as we drafted dialogue, blocked scenes
and assumed character roles.

Coached by caring adults, our acting
troupe played these texts, improvised facial expressions, gestures and
one-liners, and discovered that we were joining the story in ways we
could not have imagined from the outset. One moment we were Jesus'
eager, befuddled disciples. The next moment we became self-righteous
ingrates, a herd of pigs, the very ones who would who betray and abandon
Jesus on his way to Calvary. To this day I have a fondness for
Pharisees because I played one on stage.

I don't recall my baptism
as an infant, though by grace those waters marked me for the lifelong
path of discipleship. I hardly recall the content of our communicant's
class, though by grace those sessions stirred my budding theological
imagination. But I will always remember how, by grace, Godspell ushered
me into that "strange new world within the Bible" (Barth), prompted me
to rehearse my role onstage and off in God's unfolding story, and
directed me toward the company of others for whom "the chief end of
humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever."

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