The spirit of Godspell burned bright after the Sunday matinee at Fresno Pacific University as six cast members of the spring musical were baptized in the university swimming pool. And none other than the actor who portrayed Jesus performed this ultimate statement of faith.
Four of the group were students and two were area actors. Two had never been baptized before and four were renewing their faith: Alex Hodson is a senior theater studies major from Hesperia, CA; Stephanie Reiter-Gonzales is senior theater studies major from Fresno; Alex Lujan is a junior theater studies major from Fresno; Lindsay Martin is a senior majoring in liberal studies with a minor in special education and the arts from Bradley, CA; Cameron Ward and Jeremy Salas are the local actors.
Godspell was the 2023 FPU spring musical, playing April 13-22 in the Warkentine Culture and Arts Center on the main campus. The matinee was April 16.
The idea was born from conversations among the cast. “I thought that was incredible,” says Jeff Jones, the production’s Jesus. “I was caught flatfooted, and I didn’t expect that at all,” he recalls of being asked to do the baptizing. “I was honored.” Jones earned an M.A. and B.A. at FPU and his day job is director of university information systems.
In addition to Jones, Brandi Martin, MFA, theater program director and director of this production; Ashley Hubble, visual and performing arts administrative assistant; and Ron Herms, Ph.D., dean of the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences, helped with arrangements.
Family and friends joined cast members for the baptism on the sunny Sunday afternoon. Martin brought a special gift for each participant: a plant called the purple trandescantia (or purple heart). “It seemed a fitting keepsake for a baptism memory. In regard to the show, much of the flower imagery comes from a line that Jesus sings in his first song, ‘God Save The People.’ While praying to his father in heaven, Jesus describes the people, his people, as ‘flowers of Thy (God’s) heart,’ she says.
Reiter-Gonzalez had been considering re-baptism for a few years. “I saw on Instagram an alum and friend of mine got rebaptized and I thought ‘hey, why not ask Jeff since he and this show are both a really big part of my faith development and God has done so much in my heart over the course of this show?’”
When she found out Hodson was thinking the same thing, the two took the idea to Martin and opened the opportunity to the whole cast. “We made it very clear this was simply an opportunity and was not mandatory: if you feel called, here’s a really unique opportunity,” Reiter-Gonzalez says. “It was a pure celebration of the family we've become and now especially that family in Christ.”
Salas was baptized in 2007 but says he had fallen on hard times since: “What kept me going is knowing God had a purpose for me. Prior to doing this show, I was in a dark place emotionally, but could feel God pulling me more and more. He never left my side at all. I gave it all to him in his name.”
This made re-baptism very personal. “I felt all the negativity in my life that happened since my last baptism was washed away and I felt renewed after and I was at peace finally. The ceremony was nothing but love for each other. I am so glad I got to share in it,” Salas says.
For Lindsay Martin, the impetus came from hardships that had come about during the show and the support from friends and cast members. “It was something I had to do to thank God for all that I had. Before the ceremony all I felt was joy and excitement. After the ceremony, however, I was overtaken with a feeling of peace,” she says.
“This show was so significant to us and very significant to me,” says Jones, whose involvement in a high-school production of Godspell has led him to be in many plays as a student and staff member. “To have been a part of something like this, which has eternal significance, is humbling.”
More on the production at: “Godspell” is the spring musical at Fresno Pacific University | University News