By Erna TAYLOR-STARK
Do you know where Oberammergau is? Can you even say it? And why in the world would you want to go there? If you are Reverend Bryan Griem, senior pastor of Montrose Community Church, you not only know the answers but you have been there.
Oberammergau is located in Bavaria, southern Germany and is host to a world famous passion play performed once every 10 years. To Pastor Griem, 2010 was his year to realize a long held passion of his own: to attend the event. “It is something I have always wanted to do and if I didn’t go soon – I would be almost 60 by the time the next one is staged!” he laughed.
He first heard about a tour that his alma mater, Talbot School of Theology – Biola University, was trying to put together: A Reformation Tour for Alumni. He then learned that Pilgrim Tours was having a one week tour of Oberammergau and The Seven Churches of Revelation in
Turkey. Thinking it was “now or never” he pulled together the fare and embarked on his personal odyssey.
The village of Oberammergau is situated at the foot of the Bavarian Alps that form the backdrop for this spectacular event performed by over 2,000 actors. The Passion was started in 1633 and 2010 presented the 41st performance. This tiny woodcarvers’ village swells to amazing capacity at the time of the performances. Otherwise the town is very quiet and sleepy – much like Solvang without a festival according to Griem. But the play is something that is always on the minds of the town inhabitants. “The mothers in Oberammergau think about their sons being potential choices to play Jesus in the play,” said Griem.
It is performed outside under whatever circumstances Mother Nature supplies and this past May was very cold. “The actor portraying Jesus on the cross must have been freezing, but gave no indication of that to the audience; he was so caught up in his role,” recalled Griem. “You can see the actors pretending to nail Christ to the cross and they actually lift the cross up with the actor in place. Although it is unclear how he stays up there, the nail marks are very obvious on his hands and feet. When they lower ‘Jesus’ it is as though he were dead as he slides into the shroud (where he is cradled by his mother, Mary) that will take him to his tomb.”
Staying true to the Easter story, the play portrays the life of Jesus up until the time of His crucifixion and resurrection. The time frame lasts over nine hours, with three hours of stage time, a three hour break for dinner and then the final three hours depicting the death and resurrection. “It is a grueling emotional time, and is most unnerving to hear Christ vilified in a language that you don’t really understand, which makes it even more unnerving. Dachau was not on my itinerary, but I went there on my own. To be in, and experience a country that could produce Dachau, and then produce this fierce Christian loyalty was a revelation to me that really connected the two passions – one horrible, the other divine. Both were moving and draining experiences; the latter fortifies your faith in humanity in that we can recover from something like this.”
“I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to do this – to see Christians from all over the world proclaiming their faith and being proud to do so.”
Pastor Griem lives in the Tujunga with his wife and two children and has been with
the Montrose Community Church for four years. Though he was born in Visalia, he grew up in the east. He returned to California thinking he would be a movie star, but “Hollywood turned me into a minister!” he laughed.
Montrose Community Church is located at 2416 Montrose Ave. in Montrose. MontroseCommunity@sbcglobal.net.