Church groups line up to view 'The Passion of the Christ'

February 22, 2004|HERB BROCK

The Rev. Tom Patterson has a personal policy governing his movie going. "I don't see R-rated movies."

But the pastor of Perryville Baptist Church a few weeks ago violated his own policy - and did so willingly and enthusiastically. The exception to his rule? "The Passion of the Christ."

Patterson was attending a Global Pastors Conference largely for evangelical Christian clergy in Orlando, Fla., when several thousand ministers were offered an opportunity to see a private screening of the movie,a controversial film produced by conservative Catholic actor and filmmaker Mel Gibson about the last 12 hours of Christ's life, leading up to and including The Crucifixion. Gibson has said the movie is based on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

"There were 5,000 pastors watching that movie, and there was wailing and weeping throughout that giant auditorium," said Patterson. "It was as if we were actually there at Calvary, witnessing the most profound and important event in the history of mankind."


Patterson and several other area clergy would like their congregations to become "witnesses" to the latest film version of The Crucifixion, and they are organizing or at least encouraging their members to see "The Passion of the Christ." By all accounts, many congregations will be flocking to movie theaters in Danville and Lexington to see the movie.

While the movie has been viewed in private screenings, such as the one attended by Patterson, it opens to the general public here and around the country Ash Wednesday. There are four showings of the movie scheduled for Wednesday at Danville Cinemas 4. (Patterson said a sneak preview of the movie will be held for "several area pastors across denominational lines" on Tuesday.)

Patterson will be arranging for a large group of Perryville Baptist members to attend a showing, and other pastors have followed suit.

For instance, the Rev. Brad King of Willow Grove Baptist Church in Boyle County has booked 150 seats for March 3. The Rev. Doug Wesley at Calvary Baptist Church in Danville also has booked a large block of seats for a showing.

Some churches or church groups are going together. For example, the Rev. Jerry Lester, associate senior pastor and music minister at First Baptist Church on Broadway in Danville, said that a senior adult group at his church will join a contingent from Centenary United Methodist Church in Danville for a 10 a.m. showing Saturday.

"All together, there will be 225 people from First Baptist and Centenary in that auditorium," said Lester. "I think it's good that Christians from different denominations sit together to watch a film about an event that is, or should be, the focus of all Christian faiths and something that links us all together."

Lester said First Baptist's youth minister is arranging for a large group of young people to attend a showing, he said.

The Rev. Joe Muench, pastor of St. Andrew Catholic Church in Harrodsburg, said he plans to arrange for a group from his parish to attend a showing of the movie at the Danville Cinemas 4.

The Catholic Diocese of Lexington also has arranged for a large contingent of clergy and parishioners from the Central Kentucky diocese to attend a showing Wednesday at the Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington, Muench said. After the movie, the bishop of Lexington will give his evaluation of the movie and answer questions about it, he said.

In addition to encouraging their members to attend "The Passion of the Christ," some pastors also will focus on the movie in sermons, Sunday school lessons and Bible-study classes.

"We plan to use the movie as the subject for Bible studies surrounding the various issues brought up in the movie," said King of Willow Grove Baptist. "We also want to use it as an outreach tool. It is a modern-day illustration of what our Lord went through for us 2,000 years ago and it will draw and impact and reach people who might not otherwise know the story of The Crucifixion."

While First Christian (Disciples of Christ) in Danville does not plan to arrange for groups from the church to see the movie, the Rev. Lance Perry said. He believes several members will see it on their own, and he plans to provide opportunities for them to discuss it.

"We have discussed the idea of holding forums of some kind where people can share their thoughts and opinions about the movie," said Perry. "The movie, no matter how it is received, does provide a trigger from a discussion of those very, very important events in Christianity, The Crucifixion and The Resurrection."

Pastors understand the movie is something of a hot potato

The pastors also understand that the movie is something of a moral, historical and theological hot potato.

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