Acting on a Higher Stage: Franklin Golden Brings Cotton Patch Gospel to Life for Katrina Victims
During the intermission of the play Cotton Patch Gospel, one question buzzes through the audience. “How does he do it?” How does Franklin Golden D’07 find time to provide a virtuoso performance as a fundraiser for Katrina victims?
It’s a question that Golden himself shrugs off. For this energetic and passionate actor, balancing the demands of his craft with those of his studies might not be easy, but it is a balancing act he is more than willing to undertake. “How could you not do it if you have the choice?” he asks.
The 30-year old Golden recently performed Cotton Patch Gospel, a bluegrass musical about the life of Jesus set in modern-day Georgia, as a fund-raiser for churches affected by Hurricane Katrina. Cotton Patch Gospel is based upon a retelling of the New Testament gospel by Southern Baptist minister Clarence Jordan, founder of the Koinonia Farm in Georgia. The music for Cotton Patch was written by famed songwriter Harry Chapin.
Bishop Kenneth L. Carder of Duke Divinity School said of the hurricane, “Katrina exposed many of the disparities in society – disparity between God’s vision for humanity and the world as it is, economic disparity, and racial division and inequality of opportunity. The Gospel speaks to such disparities and Cotton Patch provided an entertaining and challenging interpretation of the Gospel’s message to the contemporary world.”
A total of nearly 900 people attended performances in Troy, Charlotte, and Durham, N.C., which raised approximately $20,000 for Katrina relief. Carder said Franklin Golden and the cast of Cotton Patch presented the production at no cost and the money raised will be used to support the ministries of pastors and churches on the Gulf Coast. A number of individuals gave $500 to $2,000 to support the project and the cause of Katrina relief. But Golden was perhaps most impressed by an employee at Office Max, who helped him print some fliers for the production. When he learned the show’s mission, he handed Golden $20 for the fundraising effort on the spot.
In the musical, Golden plays all the parts—more than 20—while being supported by the bluegrass talents of The Shady Grove Band, based in Chapel Hill, and folk guitarist Jonathan Byrd of Carrboro, N.C. Golden’s lengthy monologues, during which he takes on a variety of personae ranging from a cigar-smoking Governor Herod to the fiery preacher, John the Baptizer, impress the crowd with his talent and versatility. But Golden hopes to leave his audience with an appreciation for Jesus instead.
“The play is proclamation, plain and simple,” says Golden. “It tells the gospel in a plain and faithful way.” He believes Cotton Patch has given many people a way back into the church, seeing Jesus and the gospel story through different eyes.
In Cotton Patch Gospel, Jesus is born in Gainesville, Ga., in 1972. Instead of Pharisees, the Cotton Patch Jesus is faced with holier-than-thou modern preachers. Instead of a corrupt Roman regime, he faces an evil governor in Atlanta. Instead of a parable in which a Samaritan saves a beaten Jew, this Jesus tells of a black man saving a white man lying by the side of the road.
Though he insists that his strengths do not lie in organization, Golden is obviously capable of getting a show off the ground. In addition to organizing the musicians and production for the show itself, he also contacted churches, venues, and media sources to promote the three productions of Cotton Patch Gospel. Yet Golden prefers to give credit to others, including a long list of divinity school staff and faculty who helped make Cotton Patch come to life.
Golden, a 1998 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, co-founded Mojo Productions while in college. Among Mojo’s accomplishments were various performances of Cotton Patch Gospel, including a 2001 production that raised about $25,000 for Habitat for Humanity International. Those funds went to rebuild homes in El Salvador destroyed by an earthquake. He sees potential in using theater as a missions fund-raising vehicle, and has long been especially captivated by Cotton Patch’s ability to both raise money and change lives.
A Charlotte native, Golden studied for a year at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and then transferred to the Master of Divinity program at Duke. He works as the temporary supply pastor at Troy Presbyterian Church in Troy, N.C. He treasures his experience as a student pastor and speaks about his parishioners with love and admiration.
On the stage, behind the pulpit, and in the classroom, Franklin Golden’s time is stretched. The question, “How does he do it?” may continue to pose a mystery. But the question “Why does he do it?” is one Golden answers with ease.
William E. Pike D’03 is the program coordinator for Caring Communities, an initiative of the Theology and Medicine Program of Duke Divinity School.
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