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Wesley Grad uses theatre to build community and transform lives

Rev. Kyle Durbin’s (second from left) congregation was recognized by the UMC’s General Board of Discipleship’s “One Matters Discipleship Award” at the gathering of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church earlier this summer.

“It’s about giving people space to experience each other’s pain and joys,” said Rev. Kyle Durbin. “It’s about being a community, not just an audience.”

As Rev. Kyle Durbin arrived at Frostburg United Methodist Church in Frostburg, Md., last summer, he brought with him a wealth of experience in theatre ministry – not just the occasional chancel drama, but theatre as a spiritual practice that transforms lives.

A top priority for Durbin, who received his Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary in 2012 and plans to graduate with a Doctor of Ministry next spring, is the focus on process over product. Wesley is one of United Methodist seminaries funded by your support of the Ministerial Education Fund.

 “There are all these high school kids working with their school theatres, but they aren’t getting cast in the big roles,” he said. “So the intent was to take all the youth, no matter how talented they are, and give them this opportunity.”

Durbin felt his own call to ministry as a sophomore in high school. His pastor offered some sage advice. “He told me, ‘Go to college but don’t major in theological studies, you’ll get all that in seminary. Major in one of these areas where you are gifted.’”

He majored in theatre performance at the University of Maryland. “For all four years I knew that I was going to go to seminary,” he said. “I was unique. All my peers were planning on going into professional theatre.”

The difference proved significant. “For me, it’s all about the two months leading up to the performance, not the performance itself,” he said. “During those months, an impact is made in the lives of these youth. Disciples are made and communities are formed.”

Talking about Wesley stirs deep emotions for Durbin. Despite his early call, he hit a stumbling block after graduating from college. “I was the lead singer in a punk rock band,” he said. “We were doing well, touring, selling records. I needed to decide whether to live that life or to take my call and vocation very seriously.”

He answered the call, and is deeply grateful for what followed. “I needed a place where I was being uplifted and surrounded by hope, and I got that from Wesley,” he said. “I got it from the professors and the administration and from my peers. It was amazing and life-changing for me.”

Now he looks forward to applying his new learning. “Worship has always been the place where I find the most affirmation of my gifts and talents,” he said. At Frostburg, one result of those gifts has been an Alternative Worship series.

Keenly focused on theatre as a ministry, Durbin steps beyond standard theatrical practice. “It’s about giving people space to experience each other’s pain and joys,” he said. “It’s about being a community, not just an audience.”

Wesley Theological Seminary website, Washington, DC

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The 13 United Methodist seminaries help students to discover their calling through the challenging curriculum. The fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip annual conferences to meet increased demands. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment at 100 percent.

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