Zion Passion Play, a spiritual drama depicting the life, ministry trials, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, has been one of the unique ministries of Christ Community Church since 1935. From its simple beginning as an Easter pageant, it has become one of the foremost Passion Plays in America.
In 1935, Reverend Jabez Taylor, a young minister with artistic talent, was asked to prepare an Easter pageant with a schedule of three performances. Due to public demand the pageant ran for twenty-seven performances in the Shiloh Tabernacle, a large wooden building with a seating capacity of 8,000. Recognizing both the gifts of Rev. Taylor and the potential for wider outreach ministry though sacred drama, Rev. Taylor was sent to the Holy Land to photograph and make sketches of where Jesus walked, as well as to purchase some costumes, in order to make the Play more authentic. Upon his return, Rev. Taylor rewrote the script and prepared new scenery for the 1936 performances. Interest was high and thousands came to see the performances which were given on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons and evenings from March through June.
In 1937, after only two performances, Shiloh Tabernacle was destroyed by a fire with only a few pieces of equipment, wigs and costumes being salvaged. To avoid disappointing the many who had planned to see the Zion Passion Play, the Chicago Civic Opera House was rented for three Sundays and more than two hundred fifty cast and stage members traveled into Chicago for the presentations, using costumes and scenery from various operas.
Plans were soon underway for a new building – Zion Auditorium – with a 2,000 seating capacity. Twenty-eight canvas drops, 25 feet high by 50 feet wide, were prepared by Rev. Taylor, and for the next twenty years Zion Passion Play was presented on Sunday afternoons during April, May and June.
In April of 1959, the Church again suffered a disastrous fire, completely taking Zion Auditorium and gutting the four-story educational building and offices. Miraculously, all costumes and wigs were saved and an outdoor stage was prepared on the original Church grounds to complete the 1959 season.
In 1960, as Zion Passion Play could not be presented in Zion, it seemed an opportune time for many cast to visit Oberammergau and four other Passion Plays in Europe. Though these Plays were good, the cast felt that Zion Passion Play had an even greater ministry and they were inspired to revitalize the Play production. For the next eight years Zion Passion Play was performed in the newly constructed Waukegan High School West Campus Auditorium. After visiting other outdoor Passion Plays, Rev. Taylor, with the Church Board, decided to build an outdoor theater next to the new church facilities. A 1,100 seat amphitheater with a 100 foot stage with two large turntables for rapid scene changing was built and the Play was performed two nights a week during July and August for the next eight years. However, cost of maintaining equipment open to the weather and cancellations due to inclement weather led to serious consideration of either terminating the production of Zion Passion Play or of building a new auditorium for it – and other church related outreach ministries.
The congregation of Christ Community Church (the Christian Catholic Church at the time) was asked to make that decision and they voted to continue the Play and to erect a new building. The present Christian Arts Auditorium with a 522 seating capacity, a large stage with two twenty-foot turntables, an orchestra area, a new Allen organ and a light and sound control room above the foyer was the result. Rev. Taylor, though retired since 1976, again prepared the new scenery and rewrote the script using the more understandable New American Standard Version of the Bible.