When I first met Tom Long he was directing a new play for a big youth gathering. As a group of actors read it through, clustered in a circle in the stone chancel of a Cincinnati church, my delight with the script grew. It was fast-moving, funny, threaded with truth about God.
But when Tom got us on our feet to block it, that was a whole other level of impressive. We were jumping between levels, falling into each other’s arms, pretending to be Junior Birdmen – the parable of the sower and the seeds turned into a rollicking comedy uncovering all the awkwardness of adolescence and the goodness of God at the same time. I was dazzled.
That was thousands of performances and thirty-six years and ago. The fact that performers stick around so long is evidence of Tom’s leadership strength. He says he leads by divine default – only looking back to see God’s hand in his life, but the fact is that he has managed a thriving arts ministry, debt free and mostly free of backstage drama, for forty years.
Since 1980, Tom has been director, playwright and chief storyteller of Friends of the Groom, a Christian theater company travelling year-round to hundreds of churches, conferences and conventions all over the country and sometimes overseas. Last year he was in Asia for several weeks, using social drama to help girls who escaped human trafficking to tell their stories.
One collection of Tom’s short scenes is called, “From the Ridiculous to the Divine”, and that pretty much sums up Friends of the Groom. You can count on a compelling storyline, several gut laughs, and a twist that melts your heart in almost every scene Tom has written. His goal is to enflesh the love of God through excellent theater, and the American church is richer for it.
Tom is married to Karen, possibly the kindest person in the world, and has two gorgeous grown daughters, Emily and Rebecca. He inspires me because he is a loving husband and father, because he does beautiful, quirky, true writing, because he is a superb director and performer with impressive range, and because he is endlessly amusing (you can count on running commentary complete with goofy voices in any long airport tunnel and at every sound check).
About the only thing Tom is not good at is marketing himself, which makes him one of the great unsung talents of the Christian community. Some of his audiences have been enormous, but many are small church groups. Everywhere he goes, he gives his best.
With or without spotlights, Tom has blessed people with inspiring performances and excellent training, and has equipped the church with dozens of matchless plays and musicals. Check them out at http://www.friendsofthegroom.org.