'Lord, Is It I?': Men's ministry brings dramatic re-enactment to First Lutheran

WORTHINGTON -- Leonardo da Vinci painted "The Last Supper," in the 15th century for his patron, Duke Lodovico Sforza, and his duchess, Beatrice d'Este. One of his most well-known and valuable creations, the painting can be found in the refectory ...

WORTHINGTON -- Leonardo da Vinci painted "The Last Supper," in the 15th century for his patron, Duke Lodovico Sforza, and his duchess, Beatrice d'Este. One of his most well-known and valuable creations, the painting can be found in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.

But a representation of the painting, as performed by the United Methodist Men's Ministry of Sheldon, Iowa, will come to life on Sunday at the First Lutheran Church, 1200 Fourth Ave., Worthington.

The Last Supper re-enactment began at the Sheldon church in 1985, quickly evolving into a tradition for the United Methodist Church as well as for churches in surrounding communities.

"We gave our 100th performance last year at St. Paul's Lutheran in Sheldon," explained Tom Thaden, who has been involved with the production's musical component since 1987. "So this (the Worthington performance) will be 101, the start of the next 100."

Originally, the drama was presented for the Sheldon congregation on Maundy Thursday.


"A crew of about three individuals went down to Buena Vista, where there was a group that had done a production down there," recounted Thaden. "On the way back, they started talking and said, 'I think we can do that.' Since then, it's kind of evolved."

Like da Vinci's painting, which is based on the account in John 13:21 of Jesus announcing that one of his 12 disciples would betray him, the pageant depicts the disciples' initial reactions, but also takes it a step further, developing each of the characters more fully.

"What you're going to see is a depiction of the painting, as it was painted by da Vinci. Christ says, 'One of you will betray me,' and they all start to think, 'Is it I?' and then they each talk a little bit about their lives," Thaden described. "I think people can learn a lot about the characters themselves, about the individuals. We want people to try to identify their personalities with which one of the disciples they would be. They were just 12 ordinary men, people like everybody else, and everybody has a different personality."

Many of the people involved in the production, which is titled "Lord, Is It I?" maintain the same parts from year to year, but the script is altered to keep the material fresh.

"We've got an individual who is involved in this, King Hickman, who loves to use drama in a church setting," Thaden explained. "He really thrives on that. Over the last three years, he's taken the production and tweaked and modified it a little bit so that the central theme is still there. He's added a little tweaking to create some renewed interest, some modifications."

Although it's been making the rounds of area churches for more than 20 years, the Last Supper drama is still in high demand. The current waiting period is about three years, according to Thaden.

This year, including the Worthington date, the Methodist men will present "Lord, Is It I?" five times during the Lenten season. Lenten season performances are also scheduled at the American Reformed Church in Woodstock and New Life Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa, then on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday it will return to Sheldon's United Methodist Church.

Thaden said it's been at least six or seven years since the production has been done in Worthington.


"That's why we keep doing it. There does seem to be a demand to bring this to communities," Thaden said. "We've been able to stay within around 90 miles and stay pretty busy for 20 years. ... What we've found is that people like to have it in their own church, like it to come to them."

New cast members generally work privately with Hickman to prepare for their roles, limiting the need for large-group rehearsals; this year, there was only one dress rehearsal, Thaden noted. Since many members of the congregation have been involved in the production over the years, there are people willing to step into a role, should the need arise.

In addition to the central cast of 13, the dramatization requires a support crew of about 30 people. The contingent generally arrives at a host church several hours before a performance. They do all the setup, have a light lunch, partake in communion and go through other preparatory procedures well in advance of the cast taking the stage. The set includes a painted backdrop, the large central table and table settings. Costumes are designed to match the painting.

In recent years, there's been an effort to extend the message of "Lord, Is It I?" beyond the re-enactment.

"About three years ago, we had the cast members go through a Sunday school class and had the kids study the characters and identify them, had them figure out who they were portraying," Thaden said. "Now, we've taken that class out to the (host) churches. So, for instance, the Lutheran church that's going to host it, they've started a Last Supper disciple Sunday school class. A couple people from here came up there and brought the materials and explained it, then they took it over. We like to have people do that before we get there."

"Lord, Is It I?" will be presented at 7 p.m. Sunday at First Lutheran Church. A free-will offering will be taken. For more information about the production, contact the Sheldon United Methodist Church, (712) 324-4893 or e-mail .

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