Playing St. Paul in China
Playing St. Paul in China
Ever since his return to the Church in 1976, Glenn Smith, 57, has had an affinity for St. Paul. He related to the wayward saint's return to his own faith; he was drawn to his writings in Scripture.

When Mr. Smith's wife, Maeve, asked him to speak on the life of a saint for their parish's vacation Bible school, "I told her I'd love to be St. Paul, even if it was only for 20 minutes," he said.

After his first short performance as St. Paul for the grade schoolers in 2008, St. Helen's parish in Schenectady contacted Mr. Smith and asked if he would be willing to perform the same piece for their faith formation students. He agreed.

Mr. Smith's second performance put him in front of an audience of almost 70 students. He realized his one-man show could become a powerful ministry - and spent the next three months fleshing out his 20-minute piece into an hour-long performance he now takes on the road.

"I had fun scripting it," said Mr. Smith, "and even more fun doing it."

Looking back on his own journey, Mr. Smith said he'd been raised Catholic but was a 22-year-old agnostic when his sister began attending a Catholic prayer meeting.

"I was touched by the example of my sister and her experience of faith. You could see she had more joy and familiarity with Christ just from these prayer meetings," he recalled.

He joined his sister for a meeting and spent the next three days in prayer when God suddenly spoke to his heart.

"I immediately went back to the sacraments and He's been present in my life ever since; I really experienced mercy," said Mr. Smith. "St. Paul's writings really gripped me at that time."

They have ever since. Mr. Smith's show, titled "A Visit with St. Paul," opens with Paul under house arrest in Rome as told at the end of the Acts of the Apostles.

"I'm sitting and writing at a desk when people enter the Church," said Mr. Smith. He then tells the history of the saint and his missions and then teaches, as St. Paul would, on prayer, the Word of God and the Eucharist. He also expands on verses such as Romans 7, 2 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 13.

"Each time I recite 1 Corinthians 13," St. Paul's famous verse on the virtue of love, "I feel as if I am the first one to say those words. It's such a powerful experience every time," said Mr. Smith.

A parishioner at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of the Americas in Albany, Mr. Smith said that the hardest part about his show wasn't writing the script; nor was it performing without any formal training in drama. It was choosing which Scripture verses to leave out from his many favorites.

After having presented the show almost 50 times in the U.S. and elsewhere, Mr. Smith sees each performance as a learning experience and a time of praise.

"The show is about getting to pray with the audience and lead them in praise; it's not about a performance," said Mr. Smith.

He's also become able to tailor the show for anyone, from children to adults. Proceeds are split between a missionary in China and the LAMP Ministry, a lay ministry to the poor that both Mr. Smith and his wife have worked with.

After three years as St. Paul, Mr. Smith told The Evangelist that the feedback has been positive. Audience members have approached him to say they now see the saint in a new light. Lectors who have seen the show share that they will never read St. Paul aloud in the same way. Others have found peace with their own faith.

For Mr. Smith, the show has provided a deeper understanding of St. Paul and his letters.

"I think my research has helped me understand his courage and his energy. He was whipped and stoned and in prison, but nothing could stop him," said Mr. Smith. "He appears arrogant at times, but we all do. He was ultimately a humble man."

The show has also "given me a stronger sense of the power of suffering," he said. "Paul's lifetime was marked by suffering and the fruit that was born from that suffering is still being seen today. I've learned about the redemptive power of suffering and not to waste it. It is a building block to Christ."