Tim Couch knows what it means to suffer.

Couch, who has spent his life in the entertainment industry, played the role of Jesus during Friday night’s Passion play at Hartsville First Baptist Church, describing the role as both an honor and very humbling.

“I’ve been a performer for all of my life, and I am very honored and humbled to play Jesus in the play,” said Couch. “But to tell you what it means to me, I’ll first have to tell my story. Over 32 years ago, I was severely injured in an accident. I had a piece of farm machinery fall on top of me. I was totally paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors told me I would likely never walk again. But the foreman at the farm that day, he was a deacon in my dad’s church, said a short prayer for me.

“Now, today, I still have some paralysis in my legs, and I can’t feel my feet. So, when Tim asked me if I would do the part of Jesus, after what I’ve been through physically, it’s was easy for me to get into the mindset of suffering. When I (was) up there playing the part of Jesus, it (was) actually painful. But for me to be able to do it brings me such a joy.”

The play was a rarity though as, for the first time, multiple churches in the community were involved in the performance.

“Tim Dunavant wrote the play,” said Journey Church Pastor Matt Brown. “He’s the one who got everyone together for it. Then, First Baptist was gracious enough to help supply the meeting space. And as long as I’ve been here, this has never happened.”

The community Passion play helped develop strong relationships between those area congregations.

“It was really a cooperative effort from a lot of different people and churches — Journey Church, First Baptist, First Methodist, Chapel Hill Methodist (Riddleton), the Hill Church (Riddleton), and Tim Couch as Jesus,” said Hartsville First United Methodist Church (UMC) Pastor Tim Dunavant, who wrote the play.

According to Brown, although there were many different churches that participated in the Passion play, they all had a common message to share.

“Churches tend to divide more than they work together,” said Brown. “We had the opportunity to be together and celebrate the resurrection, and we are together in our message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone.

“Jesus said that his disciples will be known by their love for one another. This play has given us an opportunity to show that. We have theological differences, of course, but we, that is the people who are participating in this, all agree on the main things. We agree about the resurrection of Jesus, that Christ’s death on the cross was for sin, and for all who believe in Him, they can have everlasting life. The resurrection is the crux of Christianity. If Jesus hadn’t risen, we would have no hope.”

The Good Friday production served as a precursor to Easter Sunday celebrations tomorrow. As one of the most highly-attended days of Christian worship around the world, many area congregations are preparing for larger-than-normal crowds.

Although attendance is expected to be higher, exactly how much higher remains unknown.

“This is my first year in Hartsville,” Dunavant said. “I am anticipating having a much larger crowd on Easter, but exactly how much larger, I don’t know. I am expecting even a little more than usual this year because of what happened in Nashville with the shooting (at the Covenant School last week). I think now, more than ever, people are in need of being reminded of the hope of the resurrection.”

Hartsville Church of Christ Minister Jerry Burchett added, “We always look for families to be together and worship on Easter. So, we expect a larger crowd. More than likely, we will see between 10 to 15% more in attendance than usual.”

Many local churches have planned events for Easter weekend, in addition to regularly-scheduled worship services.

“On Easter morning, we are going to have a sunrise breakfast and service,” said the Hill Church Pastor Preston Carter. “Actually, we are going to start at 10 a.m. Then, we are going to have a communion service after our sunrise breakfast.”

Dunavant added, “At Hartsville UMC, at 9:30 a.m. is a brunch, followed by an Easter egg hunt at 10:30 a.m., and the service is at 11 a.m.”

To welcome visitors and members to Journey Church tomorrow, the church will be offering free family photos for those in attendance.

“On Sunday, worship is at 10 a.m.,” Brown said. “We will be offering free family photos. We did it last year, and it was a really good thing.”

As part of Holy Week celebrations, First Baptist Church — located at 773 McMurry Blvd. in Hartsville — is having an Easter egg hunt today for kids.

“We are having an Easter egg hunt at 3 p.m. for the kids,” said First Baptist Church Pastor Matt Edwards. “We are having our regular 11 a.m. service on Easter morning.”

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