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Bringing the Bible to life

In a darkened sanctuary at Farmington's Faith United Methodist Church, Jeff Turner is playing dead.

Lit only by a single spotlight, Turner is laid out on a simple wooden cross. His arms are spread. He's dressed in white, a crown of woven vines on his head.

The image of Christ on the cross is familiar to just about anyone who's ever attended church at Easter, but seeing it this way gives the moment a different gravity. Seeing people -- friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners -- step into those images depicting Jesus on his journey to the cross gives the story a new meaning.

That's the idea, anyway. It's why FUMC member Bruce Radil raised the idea of creating a living Stations of the Cross this year at his church. And it's why so many others were enthusiastic about taking part.

The living Stations of the Cross is new to Farmington, but not to Radil. He saw his first one in 2001, at an event put on by the Unidos Enchristo Society. He produced the living Stations at a former church and as the Easter season approached he asked FUMC pastor Kevin Fox about doing one here.

"I thought it would be a good thing to bring out," he said. "It's a very moving and changing experience."

The event stirs a lot of emotion without a lot of moving parts. The event consists of parishioners striking the poses of the 14 Stations of the Cross while a narrator reads the familiar text that accompanies each station. Between stations the sanctuary blacks out -- there is black fabric on all of the windows to keep things as dark as possible -- to allow the performers to change their position. When the nails are driven into Jesus' hands and feet the sound of a hammer hitting a block of wood rings out in the room.

"When you're lying on that cross and hear that hammer, it gets your attention," said Radil, who has portrayed Jesus in past performances.

Radil served as greeter and soloist for last Friday's performance. He did a lot of recruiting in the congregation to gather the rest of the cast. He knew right away he wanted Turner as his Jesus.

"He's got a genuine care for people," Radil said. "That touches me."

Turner said the experience of living the Stations of the Cross was emotional for him.

"It's been really cool," he said. "Even our first practice, all of us involved in this got really emotional."

That's normal. Radil said the first time he participated in the living Stations many of the cast members ended up in tears.

"When you actually see somebody there, it makes it more real," he said. "You read about it and see pictures of it, but it's not the same."