For many it is their only exposure to the heart and soul of The Gospel.

For many it is their only exposure to the heart and soul of The Gospel. That is why Kent Memorial Lutheran Church has been part of the He Is Risen Easter pageant for 50 years now.

According to director Toni Wagner, the mission of this colorful outdoor retelling of the crucification and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the witness standpoint is to share the Good News of salvation. 

“It obviously has an impact. We have so many who keep returning to see it,” she says. “We feel so blessed to present this each and every year, rain, shine or snow. All we want to do is just share the Good News to as many people as possible.”

The Westside pageant actually started 51 years ago, but there was one year when it was not presented.

Lilli Root and the Sunrise Beach Little Theatre initiated the presentation, creating the costumes — many of which are still in use today. Local church-goers were in the production, but through the SBLT, though the pageant has always been on the grounds of Kent Memorial along Highway 5.

That’s right, that cave-like structure along Highway 5 in Sunrise Beach is the tomb of Jesus. It stands there permanently while the rest of scenery is put up solely for Easter by the men of Kent.

In 2003, the theatre group could no longer cast enough people though, and it was cancelled.

There are 25 speaking parts and 13 non-speaking parts as well as anywhere from 20 to 50 “citizens” who are witnesses.

Wagner says there was such an uproar that Kent Memorial took over the organization that it had previously been a partner in. 

The commotion proved to the folks of Kent that the production was worth the work, and the much beloved Westside tradition has continued unabated ever since.

“We have learned over the years, talking to people who come to it — there are many people who come year after year and it’s their only exposure to the Good News that they have. They’re not regular church attendees for whatever reason, but they do to the pageant and bring their families. It’s a multiple generation audience these days with people who first came as children who are now bringing their children or grandchildren. And they come from all over,” says Wagner. “It’s a family tradition.”

The ecumenical aspect remains as members of other churches are also in the cast. Many local families - such as the Thibodeaus — are in it year after year, as much a tradition for them to perform as it for others to watch. Jesse Thibodeau has played a remarkable Jesus for what will be 11 years after this Easter.

And the pageant is largely unchanged. They use the original script and original music — all piped out over speakers.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” says Wagner. “As long as we keep reaching folks, we’ll keep presenting the pageant.”

Whether you live in the Lake area or are visiting, all are invited to come and enjoy this outdoor experience. Wagner just advises that you get there early for a good parking spot (if it rains) and bring a lawn chair or blanket for a place to sit on the hillside that looks onto the performance area.

The pageant starts at 8:30 a.m. Easter Sunday, April 1, but the music starts at 8. The production lasts about 35 minutes.