Pastor Michael Rhyne has gone from delivering soliloquies to writing sermons.
A former Shakespeare actor, Rhyne, 35, accepted the pastorate at Geeseytown-Newry Lutheran Joint Parish last summer. It is his first assignment since graduating from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in 2009.
The decision to abandon curtain calls for a God-ordained one began about six years ago. Rhyne was an adjunct theater professor when he felt led to leave the stage for the sanctuary. He was giving a lecture one day when the thought "'you know, this is sort of like preaching" entered his head. "It shocked me so much that I put the thought away," he said.
The Rev. Michael Rhyne is pastor Geeseytown/Newry Lutheran Parish and can be found in the pulpits of both churches on weekends. Before studying theology, he spent many years studying theater.
By that time, Rhyne was pursing a career that was his passion - acting. He was first exposed to the art in his boyhood town of Youngsville, N.C., north of Raleigh. In the rural community of less than 1,000 residents, play productions demanded the skills of students at all age levels. He was in kindergarten when a teacher came looking for children who could "sing loud and stand still" to be the Munchkins in the "The Wizard of Oz."
During elementary school, he also performed in "Cinderella" and "The Sound of Music" before the district ran out of money to stage productions.
His interest in the theater was reawakened when he attended a showing of "West Side Story" at the University of North Carolina, where he was a student.
During the play, he kept thinking, "I love this stuff. This is what I used to do."
He got back into the limelight after landing a role in a musical review at the university and as the Lion in the "The Wiz."
A career in theater was so attractive to him that he switched his major from philosophy and literature to communications/drama his sophomore year.
Rhyne also joined the Pauper Players, an independent theater troupe on campus, and eventually became administrator of the group.
His big break came his senior year when Rhyne replaced a New York professional actor as Henrik in "A Little Night Music." The professional actor had fallen and broken his jaw two days before opening night and could not sing. Rhyne was an understudy for the chorus, but had never practiced Henrik's part.
When Rhyne got a call from the director asking him to replace the actor, he agreed but was too nervous realize what he had done.
When the company manager called later to see how he was doing, Rhyne asked, "Who am I going on for and in what role?"
It was a prop - the Bible - that saved him from flubbing his lines.
In the play, Henrik is a seminarian who always has his nose in the Bible. While playing the character, Rhyne's made sure he always was reading the Bible because it contained his lines.
"After a couple of shows, I got it down," he said.
Being thrown into the role boosted his confidence.
"I realized I can do this. I really can do this," he said. "I was all for moving to New York and being an actor."
Instead, he stayed in Chapel Hill, N.C., performing for four years with a start-up company called Open Door Theater. It was there that he met his wife, Karen.
During their engagement, the couple began looking for a church and connected with a Lutheran church minister from Chapel Hill while attending Rhyne's uncle in Greer, S.C.
Rhyne remembers the pastor saying, "Jesus loves you and wants you to be a part of his life." at the first service they attended.
"I was hooked," Rhyne said. He was a warm, open, loving person and the people were welcoming."
Two years later, the Rhynes moved to Alabama where Rhyne enrolled in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, a program affiliated with the University of Alabama to acquire a master of arts in acting.
While he was a student, the Rhynes had a daughter, Lillian. To support his family, he taught drama classes at three schools during the next three years: Huntington College and Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala., and Troy University in Troy, Ala.
As an adjunct professor, Rhyne was enjoying his job and no longer desired to be an actor in New York.
"Only God had other plans for me," he said. "Something was gnawing at me. I felt there was something else I should be doing."
He said he was traveling between teaching jobs in Troy and Montgomery, when he asked God what he wanted him to do,
He said he heard clearly, "Look at Matthew 7:16."
It states, "By their fruits you will recognize them."
He said he thought, "So what are your fruits? I could spend my life teaching theater and do a lot of plays or I could go to seminary and point people's lives to Jesus."
Since moving to Blair County, he and his wife had another daughter, Ella.
Rhyne believes his acting career was an intentional process that led to serving.
"When I performed in a play, it was make believe. Now, I get up before people and talk about something that is real and point them to the truth. Jesus is the truth. It is more fulfilling," he said.
For Elaine Mallory of Duncansville, a member of Newry Lutheran, his sermons "bring the gospel to life. They are never boring, that's for sure," she said.
Mary Lightner of Hollidaysburg, a member of Geeseytown Lutheran, appreciates Rhyne's mini sermon for the children and his singing ability.
"He has a good voice," she said. "It's just beautiful."
Mallory and Lightner both said he supports church members during difficult time.
"He does it in a quiet way," Mallory said. "He has a quiet dignity about him.