By Shay Phelan
Long ago and not so very far away, I worked as a professional actor, mainly in the Irish theatre. It was a fulfilling experience but there were certain difficulties. Having become a Christian, and one with a sharp, sometimes overactive conscience, I often found scripts contained language and blasphemy I didn’t want to express.
And then, with even the greatest playwrights, there could be a conflict of worldview. Although an actor could bring much creativity and innovation to his or her interpretation of a role, our work was still subservient to the intentions of the dramatist in respect of the message the play was meant to communicate. I wasn’t happy about this. Increasingly, I desired to glorify God more overtly with my talents and use them to express His truth.
I eventually quit the secular theatre scene and for a long period earned my daily bread in a hotel, working as a houseman. Not much creativity in that, you might say, and for much of the time you would be right. Yet, during this time in the hotel, I was memorising the letter of Paul to the Ephesians and that provided some very productive meditation while vacuuming.
I can also recall one special afternoon composing the first part of a song about the blood of Jesus while engaged in the same activity, feeling the love and anointing of God fill my heart while I worked. Although these things were done primarily for my own benefit, I knew I could use my acting and song-writing skills to communicate God’s Word to others.
And so (rather slowly), a new, unique ministry was born, involving drama, songs, scripture recitation and even storytelling. I wrote some short dramas for solo performance and songs that came out of my own experience of Christian life.
“Scripture recitation” may sound rather unexciting to those who haven’t seen my work. It isn’t a question of simply cramming a piece of scripture into my head and mechanically speaking it. Through meditation and prayer, I must enter into the meaning of the scripture, seeking God for insight into every phrase, every word, understanding as much as possible God’s love and passion for His children, as expressed through writers like Paul. Then, that passion and love must be expressed in the performance.
As an artist, I am concerned with beauty. In the heart of God, truth and beauty are one. Revelation highlights the sublime beauty even in such details as Christ washing His disciples’ feet. For me to communicate that, I must first see it.
Eric Liddell, the evangelist who won a gold medal for Britain in the 1924 Olympics, once said of his running skill, “God made me fast. When I run, I feel His pleasure.” For me, the satisfaction is similar. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as the affirming anointing I sense when speaking His word from my heart, with all the skill I can muster and communicating it to hearts that are open.
Shay Phelan was born in Dublin. He has been a member of St Mark’s Church on Pearse Street for 25 years. With experience in professional theatre, Shay is currently giving full-time commitment to his creative ministry. He has performed in various churches and conferences in Ireland and the UK. Contact him on 085 139 4434 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org