--by Tom Long
Friends of the Groom started in 1980 when I called up a group of friends and asked them if they wanted to be in a musical I was writing for my church--St. Thomas Episcopal, just outside Cincinnati. I had recently completed an M.A. in theater at the University of Cincinnati, and had already done some writing and directing of short scenes at the church. We produced the play with six adults and one crew member, and toured it to three other churches. The next year we did a new play -- this time with a cast of eleven. By the third year, a number of clergy and other audience members were telling us: "You people really need to be institutionalized!" So we picked a name for ourselves, printed stationery, found some free legal help, and in March, 1982, we were incorporated as an independent non-profit organization. Three Episcopal rectors helped out by encouraging their congregations to support us with a modest annual sum.
The group has continued to develop since that time. Interest in the group increased dramatically after we performed at an Episcopal Diocesan convention in the fall of 1982. In 1983 we took another large step forward by forming a team of five regular performers who cleared their summer calendars in order to be available as a traveling company. In the fall of 1983, we received first place in a national theater competition sponsored by the Episcopal Foundation for Drama.
That first summer we performed about 10 or 12 times. Each performance led to more performances; particularly when we appeared at conferences or large gatherings. Today we perform 100-150 times a year, normally reaching 12-16 states and about 10 -12 religious denominations. Our traveling team is composed of three actors (drawn from a pool of about seven) from the Cincinnati area. The performing is heaviest on the weekends with two overnight trips planned each month. We continue to rehearse at St. Thomas Episcopal church, but the members of the group come from a variety of churches and denominations.
Friends is supported financially by generous donors, performing fees, and grants. There are two full-time staff members, and a part-time office manager. The actors are also paid, but only work part-time.
Throughout our history, we've had several things going for us:
1) The Holy Spirit. I don't think any of us had a clear vision for how the group would grow. We just prayerfully walked through whatever door was open in front of us; and each new development grew naturally from the one before it. Yet--despite the fact the path ahead was never certain--when we look back we see the doors lined up in a Spirit-led path. It's a process I like to call, "Divine Default."
2) A group of wonderful friends with flexible schedules who have been willing to devote a lot of time, talent, and faithful witness to the group.
3) A loving and supportive congregation. St. Thomas has contributed money, space, encouragement, a friendly audience, and its prayers.
About eight years into our journey, we formalized our mission statement: We are a not-for-profit performing arts ministry. We work together as believers committed to revealing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through drama, storytelling, music, workshops, and other renewing experiences.