TV sitcom writer Paul Kerensa and church teacher Andrew Ollerton are taking a show about the Bible on the road. They tell Philip Halcrow about creating The Greatest Story Ever Toured
THEY’RE a different kind of double act. One is a writer of TV comedies such as Not Going Out and Miranda. The other is the teaching pastor at a church in Peterborough. But Paul Kerensa and Andrew Ollerton are so gripped by one book that they have created a show to help other people discover it.
‘The Bible is a book for every human being, whether they’re Christian or not,’ Andrew enthuses. ‘It tells the story of humanity. Everyone needs to get into the Bible. But everyone needs a leg-up into it.’
The Greatest Story Ever Toured has its origins in a course that Andrew set up while he was leading some churches in Cornwall. ‘A lot of people were coming to faith,’ he says, ‘but although they had an appetite to get into the Bible, they didn’t know how. ‘So on one occasion, after about a dozen people were baptised, I told them that I would give them a crash course in the Bible.’
The result was the Bible Course, which evolved into an eight-session ‘journey through the Bible’ using a mixture of teaching and discussion.
Andrew suggests that the Bible can be a puzzling book.
‘My kids sometimes do jigsaws. They get excited about the prospect of doing a puzzle but then they can look a bit disillusioned whenall the pieces fall out of the box in a jumbled mess, because any one of those pieces isolated from the whole makes little sense. Often I say to them: Look at the lid, at the big picture, and then the little piece will make sense.
‘Too often people read the Bible by holding one little bit of it in isolation. But the Bible Course says: Look at the lid, at the big picture, and then the pieces will make sense.’
The course – supported by Bible Society – is now being highlighted in a show that is travelling round England, and The Greatest Story Ever Toured contains not only the commentary of Andrew but also the comedy of Paul.
Andrew says: ‘We wanted to put on an evening that showcased elements of the course and showed how the whole Bible fits together from Genesis to Revelation, but which also had an emphasis on entertainment. ‘So I come onstage throughout and give short soundbites about the content of the Bible, such as how to get into Genesis or how to understand the Gospels, and then Paul comes on to bring comedy. We wanted it to be a combination of education and entertainment. Often those two experiences are separated – people think you go to Netflix for entertainment and you go to school for education, but we thought that when it comes to the Bible, there’s plenty of material that can provide both.’
Paul was enthusiastic about going on tour, saying: ‘I love anything that helps people unpack the Bible.’ He has even been unpacking the Bible himself while working on the show, through listening to Andrew and writing his own material.
‘It was good to be reminded that the Bible is not a chronological book,’ he says. ‘Some of its books are histories – they provide us with the best information about what was happening at a certain time, and we rely on them as documentation of tribes, wars, judges and kings. But then the wisdom literature comes in, and that’s no longer in historical sequence. Even Paul’s letters were written in a different order from where they ended up.
‘I also learnt about the Bible by digging around to write the comedy side of the show. As Andrew is the Bible teacher, we thought it was best to leave him with the big powerhouse gospel stuff about the Crucifixion and Resurrection, so that left me with Paul’s letters.
‘I ended up doing a rap to the tune ofEminem’s “Stan”, which we thought was a good letter-writing song. We’ve changed the words so that it’s a bit more biblical – no harm done there. But to write that section, I had to look at what each letter was saying to its intended audience.
‘I realised that I had known a lot of the verses out of context, but when I read them in their wider context, I saw how everything fitted together.’
Paul and Andrew hope that The Greatest Story Ever Toured will help people see the overarching story of the Bible.
Andrew says: ‘Within the big story are lots of little stories and individual characters. But when you read those little stories, you should never lose sight of the big story, which is God’s great plan – to bring the whole human family back to a place of hope and restoration.’
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