Belleville church celebrates 28 years of Passion Play performances

BELLEVILLE, IL (KPLR) - Christians around the world are celebrating Easter this weekend.

In a Belleville church, members had their faith tested by fire almost a quarter century ago. It was Good Friday 1994 at St. Matthew United Methodist Church when flames broke out.

“It was a big deal way back in the day, because I grew up here in the church,” said Jamie Palmer, who portrays Jesus in this year’s Passion Play.

Palmer played a thief the night of the fire, so this new role is a big change.

“It’s a humbling, humbling, humbling task. It’s very kind of surreal. It’s an emotional role,” he said.

Some 300 church members and volunteers put on the show. They’ve done it for 28 years.

“That night that it burned down, it was real to us; it wasn’t something you see on the news. It was our home church,” said Lindsay Vollmar.

Vollmar’s father and other church members built the new sanctuary that burned. She had a small part in “The Joy of Easter” that evening, but now she’s the play director.

“It was emotional. To this day, 23 years later, I can’t help but remember what happened that night,” she said.

It is such a popular performance people arrive hours in advance to get a good seat. The fire and the production seem to have reaffirmed people’s faith.

“It gives us a great reminder that God is alive and He does survive, He helps us survive in these difficult, dark times. We can overcome just as He overcame on resurrection Sunday,” Palmer said.

There is one more show Friday night at 7:30 p.m. It’s free and will be available to watch live online.