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Fourth biennial symposium will examine place of theater in worship

April 16th, 2018

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It took Ted Swartz, keynote presenter for Bethel College’s 4th Worship and the Arts Symposium, some time to find his place as an artist.

The biennial symposium takes place on campus Nov. 18, with most activities in Luyken Fine Arts Center.

The 2017 symposium’s title, “Seasons of the Soul: Enacting the Mystery of Faith,” indicates its focus – on how drama and theater can enhance the Christian worship experience.

Swartz, an actor and playwright, leads Ted & Company TheaterWorks, based in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

In several presentations during the Nov. 17-19 weekend at Bethel, Swartz will reflect on his own journey as well as the particular place of theater in worship.

Swartz will be the presenter in Bethel’s convocation for students Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. and will also perform Slightly Left of Normal that evening at 7 p.m., both in Krehbiel Auditorium. Slightly Left of Normal is free for symposium registrants, with an admission charge for others.

Swartz’s work is seldom static, and Slightly Left of Normal is still developing, he says, but he expects it to be “a retrospective of my life in the arts and a look at how art saved my life and my faith. I don’t think that’s overstated.”

Swartz says he came to the arts “relatively late – I didn’t call myself an artist until I was 36.” This paralleled his non-traditional education path, as he finished college and then went to seminary in his 30s, already married and a father.

Slightly Left of Normal will be “a performance that [follows] that arc – doing comedy with Lee [Eshleman, his longtime theatrical partner who died in 2007], doing theater [including comedy] around the biblical story with Lee, then solo.”

When Swartz began studying at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia, he also began to discover “art had something to teach me about Scripture.”

In his Saturday morning presentation, “Chasing Goosebumps,” he will talk about “how I understand the way to get from theater to Scripture, the inherent story in Scripture.

“It’s very much related to [the Jewish scholarly tradition of] midrash,” he went on. “Someone once said that midrash is ‘finding the white fire between the black fire,’ with the ‘black fire’ being the words on the page.

“In theater, we want people to wonder, to laugh, to be moved. We string all that together and we have a play.

“[I spend time] working with other people to find something that works on the stage, and when we find it, that’s when the shivers go up the backs of my legs.”

Swartz will be part of the symposium wrap-up plenary session on Saturday afternoon, on a panel that includes Patricia Shelly, Bethel College professor of Bible and religion, John McCabe-Juhnke, Bethel College professor of communication arts, and Laurel Koerner, instructor of theater at Tabor College, Hillsboro.

McCabe-Juhnke and Koerner are presenting workshops, “Finding the Drama in Reading Scripture” and “The Worshiping Body: Corporate and Corporeal,” respectively. Shelly is part of the symposium planning committee.

There are two other workshop options. One is on the process of creating a new hymnal for Mennonite Church USA, with two pastors who are also musicians, Cynthia Neufeld Smith from Southern Hills Mennonite Church in Topeka and Tom Harder from Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita.

The fourth option is a discussion with Jerry Holsopple, a Virginia-based filmmaker and visual artist, about his exhibit “7x7: Laments for an Age of Sexualized Violence.”

The collection of paintings will be on display in Bethel’s Regier Art Gallery and there will be an opening reception Nov. 18 from 5-6 p.m.

The exhibit opening and the evening worship service, done in hymn festival style, are both free and open to everyone.

The service starts at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall and will feature music by the Bethel College Concert Choir and area singers, with William Eash, Bethel College professor of music, conducting.

Along with congregational singing, dramatic readings and brief meditations by symposium presenters, the service will include a collection of non-perishable food items and funds for Harvest of Love, which supplies the Harvey County Food Pantry.

The daytime symposium activities require a registration fee of $40 per individual or $25 per person for three or more people from the same congregation registering as a group. The fee includes lunch and supper in the Schultz Student Center cafeteria.

Students from Bethel College and Hesston College, as well as Bethel faculty and staff, can attend the symposium for free, though they will need to buy meals in the cafeteria (unless already on the meal plan), or elsewhere.

See a complete symposium schedule, and register online, at or call Greta Hiebert at 316-284-5250.

The symposium is made possible by the Reimer-Boese Worship and the Arts Endowment, which celebrates the lives of Katharina Voth Reimer and Thomas U. Reimer, and Maria Schroeder Boese and Abraham L. Boese. The former are the parents, the latter the birth parents of donor Dr. Rosella Reimer Duerksen, both of whose birth parents died in her infancy.

The endowment is intended to assist Bethel College in providing lectures, musical events, workshops or conferences which focus on the arts as tools for the communication of the faith. It is anticipated that, while some events may primarily serve the student body of the college, others will serve the broader community as well.

Related to the symposium, Holsopple will speak in Bethel’s convocation Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium.

Swartz and actor Michelle Milne will give the Kansas premiere of Discovery: A Comic Lament, a play about the Doctrine of Discovery, the legal framework that justifies theft of land and oppression of indigenous peoples in North and South America, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium. Tickets are available at Thresher Shop in Schultz Student Center at Bethel during regular business hours, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tickets for this play are not included in Worship and the Arts Symposium registration.)

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.