Saugerties church to hold an emotional, unique service

Illustration by Will Dendis

Illustration byWill Dendis

The Reformed Church of Saugerties will present the powerful drama, “Were You There?” on Maundy Thursday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. It is a poignant re-enactment of Jesus’ trip to the cross brought to life by a cast of Broadway actors and professional musicians working side by side with members of the congregation. The drama is part of the Tenebrae candlelight service. The church is located at 173 Main St.


For some idea of what to expect, here’s the Saugerties Times preview of the 2012 performance:

The Tenebrae, also known as “The Service of Shadows,” follows the last days of Christ’s life in a haunting ceremony. Unlike the standard Passion Play, the Tenebrae leaves much to the imagination. The action happens behind a veil. This year’s performance features a troupe of professional Broadway singers and actors, who will stage a reenactment of the betrayal, persecution, and crucifixion of Jesus in nine dramatic vignettes, accompanied by music.


In a time of sensory overload, the format works on the principle of “less is more.”

The church, lit only by candle, grows darker during the performance. After every act, a candle is snuffed out. By the time that the performance ends with the death of Jesus on the cross, only one candle, the Christ Candle, remains.

Once the actual performance is over, the Christ Candle is escorted from the church, only to be brought back inside to the front of the sanctuary, in a display of hopefulness for the resurrection of Jesus.

The performance doesn’t pull any punches. The Christ Candle is its only image of hope. The Tenebrae service is powerful and emotionally hefty because it focuses on the humanity of Christ, portraying him in his simultaneously weakest and most glorious moment; Jeanne Jones, a professional acting veteran with years of Broadway experience, gets choked up just talking about it.

“When you’re watching a play or a drama, something happening on a stage, you are removed from it. There’s a wall there, and you see what’s actually happening. In this case, a performance like a radio drama, you hear the voices around you, and you feel like you are one of the people right there in the event,” says Jones. “That’s why it’s so, so deeply moving – because you are a part of it. It’s a very dark story.”

Reverend Terry O’Brien says the Tenebrae is “deeply powerful” because individuals have unique experiences. “Everyone envisions these characters differently in their own lives, and here they’re being recreated for you. You hear the voices of these biblical characters coming to life. [The performance] takes people through a range of emotions, through the very deepest of feelings. It touches people at the core, and takes you on a journey. It’s the breadth of emotions that we have in humanity. It’s the worst of feelings, in that we go through that pain and suffering that Jesus went through, but in the end, we are taken by the love that is there as well.”

The Tenebrae promises to be an emotionally dynamic, soul-stirring performance.