New work was nurtured by Sabbatical Grant from the Louisville Institute
By Toya Richards Hill
Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary graduate, pastor, musical director, and playwright Rev. Cheryl Goodman-Morris is presenting the Biblical story of Puah and Shiphrah during the 2009 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women (PW), and also is unveiling the account to a mainstream audience at the same time at Louisville’s Actors Theatre.
Puah’s Midwife Crisis will be performed during the large-scale PW gathering taking place in Louisville, July 11-15. The event brings together women from throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and Goodman-Morris has been invited to present an abbreviated version of the musical during plenary sessions.
Themes of women’s empowerment and transformation flow in the story that tells of Puah, a young Hebrew girl, and Shiphrah, an Egyptian with duties to the royal court.
Though Pharaoh had commanded that all Hebrew boys be killed at birth, midwives Puah and Shiphrah, who were charged with carrying out the deed, tricked the Pharaoh instead. The action of these women is the first case of civil disobedience recorded in the Bible, Goodman-Morris contends.
“Women can be empowered” to be faithful servants of God, said Goodman-Morris, who graduated from Louisville Seminary in 1977 with a Master of Divinity degree. She currently serves as minister of worship, education, and arts at Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley, Calif., where her husband, Rev. Dr. Mark Goodman-Morris (MDiv ’76; DMin ’85), serves as pastor.
The two, who have brought leadership to the church for 21 years, were recognized by Louisville Seminary as 2008 Distinguished Alums.
Cheryl Goodman-Morris also is the artistic director of the Portola Valley Theater Conservatory, Valley Presbyterian’s non-profit community arts organization that is facilitated through the church’s on-campus theatre.
Puah’s Midwife Crisis emerged from a first-person narrative Goodman-Morris wrote 24 years ago while she was pregnant. She subsequently used the monologue as a sermon and presented it at conferences and other venues.
Her piece evolved into the current musical, Puah’s Midwife Crisis, after Goodman-Morris reconnected with a friend two and a half years ago who also helps organize the PW Gathering. The friend talked about Goodman-Morris bringing drama to the event, and Gathering officials later concurred with the idea.
From there, Goodman-Morris wrote the play and collaborated with writing partner and church member Karen Russell to compose the music. Production began in January 2009 and the Broadway style musical premiered at the Portola Valley Theatre Conservatory in March.
In addition to the presentation during PW Gathering, Puah’s Midwife Crisis also will debut at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Three matinee performances will be open to the public July 12-14. Tickets are required for the free performances; free-will offerings will be accepted, and the money collected will be donated to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Information about securing passes to the shows can be obtained at www.puahthemusical.org.
Goodman-Morris said she hopes those who attend the musical will experience it as a “celebration of life,” and additionally take away the play’s message of “transformation of the human spirit.”
Transformation is something Goodman-Morris knows a little bit about, having experienced it first-hand over the last year as her musical has come to fruition and as she and her husband took part in the Sabbatical Grant for Pastoral Leaders program of The Louisville Institute.
The program “offers pastoral leaders a chance to step out and step back from the pace and pressures of ministry,” according to the Institute, a Lilly Endowment-funded program based at Louisville Seminary.
Cheryl and Mark Goodman-Morris both were awarded grants in 2008, and as a result the two participated in a theatre program at Accademia dell'Arte in Italy and attended performances at the Edinburgh Arts Festival in Scotland, among other things.
“Since our sabbatical experience, we feel transformed,” said Goodman-Morris, who has always brought together the arts and religion in her ministry. “It has allowed us to reinvent.”
She also was able to integrate the sabbatical with her work on Puah’s Midwife Crisis, which Goodman-Morris was working on at the time. And, she said their worship at the church has been positively affected as well.
Now, “we are much freer in worship,” she said. We have a “fresh perspective and new ideas.”
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Associate Director of The Louisville Institute, said what the Goodman-Morrises have experienced is exactly what the Institute hopes will occur in others’ ministries.
“What we are trying to do is restore the soul,” he said of the annual grants, first awarded in 1994.
The sabbatical activities the Goodman-Morrises engaged in made sense because the experiences were related to who they are, Sorge said. The grant cultivated the field in which their work was growing, he added.
“Their ministries and gifts were watered well, sprouted during the sabbatical, and bore fruit after,” Sorge said.