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'March'

The cast of "March of the Big-eared Nasties" takes a break from rehearsal. In the back, from left, are Anna Post, Mary Lou Baldwin, Dale Fennessey, Candy Butchino, Simon Moody, Charli Tallman and Alex Guzalak; in the front, from left, are Jim "Mugsy" Byrne, Monika Salvage, Ella Salvage and Tony Gero.

The verse in Matthew says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” At Westminster, we’ve flipped that around to say, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be.” In other words, we devote our time, energy, and resources toward the things about which we are passionate. If something is important to us, as a church or as individuals, we invest in it.

There are mission and service projects which we as a church support. But as we look around at our individual members, we see that they are active in the community in a wide variety of ways as well. Some work with children; others with the elderly. Some can balance a budget, some can write, some can sing, some can cook or bake, some can teach, some can knit or sew. But they all are doing God’s work.

To support and empower members to live out their faith in creative ways, my church established a mini-grant program called “Where Your Heart Is” grants. Members can apply for financial support for ministries which do God’s work in the community.

A great example of this new initiative is the revival of the children’s musical “The March of the Big-eared Nasties.” Bob and Beverly Miller are long-time members of Westminster who, in addition to full-time careers, have been active in community theater. Bob is a singer and actor who has appeared in Auburn Players Community Theatre and Merry-Go-Round Playhouse productions, and Bev is a writer who authored and produced the “Palpitations” fundraisers for Auburn Hospital. Together, they wrote a number of children’s productions, including “The March of the Big-eared Nasties.”

“Nasties” was written in 1994 in response to a planned neo-Nazi rally in downtown Auburn. As word spread of the rally, Auburnians planned how to respond, holding assemblies and vigils to celebrate diversity. On the day of the rally, 25 out-of-town neo-Nazis arrived to find they were vastly outnumbered by a large crowd of counter-demonstrators, and the neo-Nazis made a hasty retreat without holding their march. The Millers wrote "Nasties" to help Auburn’s families remember the lessons that were learned from this event: that love is stronger than hate.

Their play takes place in the mythical village of Friendlytown, where big-eared and small-eared people live together in peace. Some “big-eared nasties,” who believe in big-ear supremacy, plan a march in Friendlytown. The main character of the play is Earnest, a boy with one small ear and one big ear. He and the Friendlytown villagers bring the conflict to peaceful resolution by holding a Parade of Love, inviting the Nasties to join them.

A poem by Edwin Markham inspired Beverly to include this imagery in the play: "He drew a circle that shut me out: Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in!"

The challenge for Bob and Bev was to write a children’s show about a serious topic in a way that was not frightening to children. By making the conflict between big-eared people and small-eared people, they could show the absurdity of bigotry in a non-scary way. “Can you imagine anything as silly as judging someone by the size of their ears?” Bev said, and included this line in the play by the town wise woman, Minerva Lou: "Next thing you know, they'll be judging people by the shape of their eyes, or the color of their skin!"

The Millers decided to revive the play as they watched last summer’s news of the violent neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bev said, “The attempt by neo-Nazis to spread a hate-filled message in a peaceful college community was uncannily similar to the abortive Nazi march in Auburn in 1993. Sadly, it seems that lessons learned in the past need to be relearned in today’s world.”

That’s where Westminster came in. Bev and Bob recruited some other church members, and asked the church to sponsor the production. Because its message fits so perfectly with Westminster’s inclusive welcome statement, it was enthusiastically approved. A “Where Your Heart Is” grant underwrote the financial costs, and rehearsals took place at the church. In order to take the play out into the community, the actual performances are Jan. 28 at Euterpe Hall in Auburn and Feb. 3 at the Morgan Opera House in Aurora.

God’s work takes many forms, including teaching children, through musical theater, how to love others.

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Jill Fandrich is a ruling elder and clerk of session at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 17 William St., Auburn, where she edits the newsletter, church website (westminsterauburn.org) and Facebook and Twitter pages.

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