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'Passion' hits screens

Much-anticipated film is selling out theaters

Much-anticipated film is selling out theaters

February 25, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Tri-State area churches have bought thousands of advance tickets to screenings of "The Passion of the Christ," which opens nationwide today - Ash Wednesday.

As of Monday afternoon, 15 shows through March 6 are sold out at Hagerstown Cinema 10 on Leitersburg Pike, north of Hagerstown, General Manager Tanya J. Ridenour said.

Over that same period, eight shows are sold out at Valley Mall 16 in Halfway, Assistant Manager Staci Gigeous said.

Ridenour said churches from Washington County and Franklin County, Pa., have ordered several hundred tickets at a time, giving them full use of an entire theater.

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The largest theater at Hagerstown Cinema 10 has more than 450 seats and the next largest has 325 seats, she said. The cinema has two copies of the film.

An advance screening was held Tuesday evening.

Early reviews described Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which is rated R, as graphic and intense. Some called the movie a powerful, soulful depiction of Jesus Christ's final hours.

Others labeled it gory and cruel, likely to incite anti-Semitism for showing Jews killing Christ.

Tri-State Fellowship, an Evangelical Free church northwest of Hagerstown, purchased a total of 700 tickets for Friday's 7:30 p.m. show at Hagerstown Cinema 10 and Saturday's 5:15 p.m. show at Valley Mall 16, Beth Ostoich, the church's director of operations, said.

Senior Pastor Randy Buchman has planned a six-week sermon series around the movie for March and April.

Each sermon will be prefaced with "true or false." "Jesus is the son of God" is what he'll discuss March 7. "Jesus was killed by the Jews" is the topic for the following week.

Buchman said he thinks the film - and the casual setting of a movie theater - is a way to teach Christ's death and why it should matter.

"It's life-changing - what Christ has accomplished by his passion," he said. "With that faith, we can have a right relationship with God. The skeptical world might say this is a marketing tool, but we really believe this."

Ostoich and Pastor Dean P. Pryor of Hagerstown Grace Brethren Church said they hope a discussion of Christ during a day at the movies motivates churchgoers to bring people who don't go to services.

"Invite a neighbor or a friend who doesn't know a lot about Jesus, to see the Bible come to life ...," Pryor said. "Jesus died a terrible death and we need to be sharing with people how he died and why he died."

Hagerstown Grace Brethren bought more than 450 tickets for Sunday's 5 p.m. screening at Hagerstown Cinema 10. Parishioners snapped them up in about a week. Many others on a waiting list will have to try for individual tickets at other showings, Pryor said.

For about 10 minutes after the show, Pryor will offer his thoughts on its message and invite viewers to contemplate more on their own. He'll close with a prayer.

Ridenour said she purposely put at least 30 minutes between the church screenings to allow time to chat.

Congregants from Ringgold Church of Christ may have a little more time Saturday evening after they see the 7:40 p.m. show - it's the last of the day at Hagerstown Cinema 10.

The church bought 400 tickets for that show and 400 more for the March 6 show. Pastor Don Conley said some parishioners bought blocks of 20 tickets. At least one person bought 50 tickets, he said.

The three pastors all said they've heard terrific comments about the movie's realism and accuracy.

"Gibson stayed as close to the Four Gospels as possible," Conley said.

Anti-Semitic accusations leveled at Gibson are unfair because some Jews - including Jesus - "are heroes in the film," Buchman said.

"Jews are helping Jesus to the end," Pryor said.

Buchman said outsiders may assume Christians are angry about the death of Jesus, but, instead, it was part of God's "master plan," so they're grateful.

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