Women of the Bible, Aliveby Gloria Rink
Some of the greatest mysteries of life can best be understood only when we look backward over our past experience. Only then do we deeply appreciate and understand how God brings people into our lives to mold and change us.
I am a housewife, mother of six and grandmother of five, living in the countryside outside of Baltimore, Maryland. I had gone with my family to our nearby Catholic church for fifteen years. Although I was not Catholic, I had even been a catechist in the church. In 1985, I converted to Catholicism. “Hallelujah, it’s about time,” all my Catholic friends agreed.
Fr. Xavier Vitacolonna, C.P., pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery Church, introduced me to the Passionist Community in Baltimore. In 1989, he hired me to be their Director of Religious Education. Eight years later, Fr. Xavier sent me information about a group of women who gave a one-time-only presentation of stories of Bible women. Little did I realize then what would develop from his thoughtful gesture.
Power of a story
For more than thirty years, I had taught in both Protestant and Catholic religious education programs for children, teens, and adults. During that time I had discovered the power of a story to show the faithfulness and love of God in our lives. I instantly loved this idea of women dressed in period costumes, each standing up, telling her story as a Bible woman, giving that woman’s own personal witness.
In 1998 I began to explore and research the stories of some of the women found in the Old and the New Testaments. Being faithful to the biblical text was important to me. At first, I wrote eight stories. They seemed like my “babies.” I knew I had to start getting feedback on them, but no one wants her “babies” criticized. I decided to first send my stories to my son, a choreographer in New York. He sent them back full of red ink. “Mom,” he wrote, “you’ve given me too many facts. I need to know what these women are feeling.”
My next critique came from my most sensitive friend. She called me with an invitation for a week’s vacation in Acapulco, Mexico. I accepted. As we sat by the pool, I read her my precious stories and she explained what she thought each woman was feeling. Back home at the computer, I began to craft each story, to put myself in the place of each woman and ask her questions: What were you feeling? What made you angry or desperate or lonely? As I wrote, the stories began to unfold. The women in the stories started to come alive to me through the power of the Holy Spirit. After nine months of critiques and many revisions, I pronounced the eight precious stories complete.
The big test followed. How would they measure up to the scrutiny of contemporary scripture study? Fr. Paul Zilonka, C.P., scripture scholar at St. Mary’s Sulpician Seminary in Baltimore, reviewed the text. Because I had attentively allowed the details of the original story to guide my expanded creative monologues for the characters, only a few changes were necessary. (“Thank you, Lord!”)
Then something wonderful
Now to cast my characters. I invited many women I knew to join together to form a traveling troupe of storytellers. Most refused, even those I had in mind when I was writing the stories. As I reluctantly accepted their no’s, I gave the casting over to the Lord. There were many who actually said, “Yes, I’ll try.” All summer long we worked on costumes and memorizing. Then, in the fall of 1999, Fr. Gregory Paul, C.P., welcomed our first presentation at St. Joseph’s. We were so nervous. Any slight distraction and we’d forget our lines. But it was a start. Women of the Bible, Alive was a reality! After about six months of presentations, something wonderful happened. Each woman began to bring her own personality and individual touch to the story she was telling. She was no longer just repeating words. It was exciting to see she had become the woman whose story she was telling.
Fr. William Murphy, C.P., pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish since 2000, has been a great supporter of this ministry. He has asked us back again and again to tell more stories to the church community. Fr. Alban Harmon, C.P. has been our photographer and always has a smile and a hug for us.
We have twenty stories in our repertory now, and fifteen flexible and experienced story-tellers to help bring alive the women of the Old and New Testaments. We spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, six stories at a time in a one-hour presentation, ending with prayer. Women of the Bible, Alive also offers presentations for children and teens. We offer retreats and Bible-time meals with storytelling. The Blessed Virgin Mary comes and prays the Rosary with groups of any age. She tells her stories one mystery at a time.
Tenth Anniversary soon
Soon Women of the Bible, Alive will be celebrating its tenth year since one small idea started to develop and flourish. We have three hundred presentations under our collective belts, half of them for Roman Catholic groups, the other half for Protestant groups. Our traveling troupe, so far, has visited six states. No matter where we go, we feel welcomed and comfortable. God’s people are always generous. Speaking of generosity: Our traveling troupe agreed from the start to be non-profit. We do ask for a stipend, which can be whatever the sponsoring group can afford. Much of the offering goes to women and children’s charities. To date, we’ve sent $27,000 to the needy all over the world. One charity we annually support is the work of Fr. Rick Frechette, C.P. (once stationed at Baltimore’s St. Joseph Monastery) and his mission to children in Haiti.
Women of the Bible, Alive has meant so much in the lives of the women of this ministry. Some of their comments: Susan Corcoran, with our group for nine seasons: “We’re called to preach the Gospel. I believe that Women of the Bible, Alive is helping me to fulfill my mission to God.” Judy Coleman, with us for six years: “I’m inspired to be a stronger woman of God through our performances and the interactions with the people we meet.” Dareen McGloin, a nine-year veteran: “Acting and telling the stories of Bible women has given me such freedom. I feel a deep sisterhood with the other members of our cast. I see women being empowered, and those less fortunate being helped by our charitable donations.”
It’s important to us that our audiences find time to meditate on the stories we tell. Therefore, we always provide the Bible references for all twenty stories. We encourage our audiences to read the stories themselves, as well as to think about their own story of God’s glory in their lives. We all have a story.
The women of Women of the Bible, Alive are always delighted by the many ways God demonstrates his presence and care in this ministry. We want to especially thank the Passionist Community for their prayers and encouragement through the years.
Gloria Rink is Founder & Director of Women of the Bible, Alive. More information about this powerful biblical ministry can be found at http://www.womenofthebiblealive.com