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Postcards: UK bishop takes on different role in Easter passion play

UK Passion Play1

ANGELA YOUNGMAN reports on how John Inge, the Church of England’s Bishop of Worcester, played the “bad thief” in an Easter passion play…

Norwich, UK

Crucified next to Christ during the Worcester Passion Play this Easter was an unlikely character – the Rt Rev John Inge, the Church of England’s Bishop of Worcester, who had taken on the role of the “bad thief” cursing Christ.

For the Inge it marked a dramatic change in role reversal. Only the day before he had been in York Minister, fulfilling his role of Lord High Almoner helping King Charles III hand out Maundy money to pensioners. Now he was being dragged out by Roman soldiers, wearing a loincloth and crucified as a thief watched by an audience of more than 1,500 people on a cross in front of a burger restaurant, close to his own cathedral.

UK Passion Play1

UK Passion Play2

Top – The Bishop of Worcester in his role of the “bad thief”, crucified alongside Christ; and the Bishop of Worcester hanging on a cross. PICTURES: James Atkinson/JDA Media

Passion plays have become increasingly popular within the UK since being revived back in the early 1950’s. Groups of churches and community groups now regularly perform the Passion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday in cities and towns nationwide sometimes in period costume or opting for contemporary dress.

The concept had originally developed during the medieval period when passion plays were performed by local guilds. Individual scenes were often performed at different sites by various guilds around the centre of a city. Many famous cycles of plays developed such as the York Mystery Plays and the Chester Mystery Plays.

The Worcester Passion Play is not unique to the city. It is based on the Wintershall Passion Play which, for over a decade, has been performed annually in Trafalgar Square, London, and tells the story of the last supper, Judas’ betrayal, the passion, His crucifixion and resurrection. As with the London play, the Worcester cast wore period clothing, resulting in the presence of Roman soldiers armed with shields and spears guarding the proceedings.

The performance was free to watch. It is the second year the play has been performed and already plans are being made for 2024.

The Bishop of Worcester is no stranger to the role of the “bad thief”, having played the same role the previous year. He had chosen the role himself, according to Jane Roberts, director of the Worcester Passion Play.

The bishop commented that he finds playing the role “profoundly affecting”.

“It is a huge privilege for me. And it is a real community event with people from all the churches taking part.”

He was not the only member of the clergy taking part. Many different churches from throughout Worcester were involved in the project, according to Roberts.

Canon Brian McGinley [the senior Catholic in Worcester from St George’s Catholic Church] was playing a High Priest; a retired Methodist minister was another High Priest. Many other cast members were from various Church of England churches, St Paul’s Assemblies of God Church, Elim Church, Baptist Church, City Church and other evangelical churches.”

Among those other participants was Bishop Inge’s wife, who played one of the women following Jesus. Playing the role of Jesus was Ollie Ward, a youth ministry teacher from Malvern.

“Richard Chartres [the former Bishop of London] once said that most clergy were failed RADA students. I spent a lot of my time at university treading the boards when I should have been studying chemistry,” Inge says.

Reflecting on his experience as the “bad thief”, Inge told Sight that the experience “reinforces for me the great love that God has for us in Jesus and how we are called to show the love of God in our lives.”

 

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