At 6:45 on Sunday morning Playhouse Merced doesn’t look like a church home. Lights are off. Air is stale. Dead leaves and cigarette butts from the parking lot collect around the entry door.
Costumes hang limply in the dressing rooms. Red lights on the sound board glow like a zombie’s eyes. A coke machine hums in the background. In the stillness of the morning the sound is inescapable.
It takes a flashlight to get around in dark corners. Sounds come from the shadows. Creaks and bumps like a building that is waking up. Was that a footstep?
Lights reveal decorative posters from 13 years of performances. A mannequin is dressed with a delicate yellow gown from an earlier performance. A baby grand piano invites someone to sit down and play. Animal head-pieces stare from an armoire.
People preparing for worship send whatever spooks may be there scurrying to the theater’s recesses. Early morning voices stir the slumbering building like a child waking with a muscle-stretching yawn. Later, when the first chords of the worship music are strummed, the theater brightens and almost dances.
When it’s time for worship to start, the foyer sounds like a school yard. Children’s laughter replaces the earlier eerie stillness. Adult conversation and hugs spread like a flame. The smell of coffee drifts through the space. Worshipers have to be shooed from their talking into the “house” for worship to begin.
The theater becomes a church just five hours a week. But that’s not hard to do, because it’s at its best when people are acting, painting, designing, rehearsing, singing, and talking—the oxygen of a place designed for performance. If the building could talk it would welcome worshipers with an, “I’m glad you’re here.”
The building loves for people to stand around its bar for their morning coffee. It loves for people to sit in its seats and to hear their voices as they sing or as they talk. It loves the mid-service coffee break and when church goers sing “Happy Birthday” to a member.
Laughter, conversation, prayer, and praise are the Sunday morning script as LifeSpring Church briefly takes up residence in Playhouse Merced. Worshipers are the morning’s cast. The Lord’s Supper takes center stage like the most important prop. Hymns form the musical score. The audience is God.
At noon it’s over. Heating shuts down. The stale air returns. The building goes dark. The noise of the coke machine serenades the silence.
Everything is left tidy, the final light is turned off, and the door is locked. And that which gave the theater and the church life on this Sunday morning, leaves for another week.