Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 27, 2004
Evangelical comedian back in Catholic Faith
One-women show draws rave reviews
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Growing up in a large Irish and Acadian family in northern New Brunswick, Judy Savoy remembers kneeling on the hard wooden floor to pray the rosary every night during Lent, singing in a girl's choir during Latin Mass, praying novenas, and going to Confession once a month.
She loved the majesty, the drama and pageantry of the Catholic Church and "the mystery that God could never be fully understood." But then, like many baby-boomers, she drifted away, lost her faith for a season, and then found it in a Protestant church.
Now, as Get Me Back to the Garden, I'm Choking on the Weeds, the one-woman-show she wrote and produced is showcasing her acting and comedic talents across Canada in mostly evangelical circles, she has returned to the Roman Catholic Church.
She has just finished a cross-Canada tour with American evangelist Tony Campolo for World Vision's sponsorship program for African AIDS orphans. In 2005, she'll do 20 shows for World Vision and moves are afoot to get her bookings in larger venues in the United States.
When Savoy was 11, a car struck her two-year old sister, killing her. That left Judy, her mother, father and four remaining siblings reeling. At age 13, she recalls being rejected by a group of girls. Those two incidents made her resolve to be successful and wall off her emotions to keep from being hurt.
At that time, she was taking catechism classes, and asking lots of questions. She remembers the teacher answering, "You are not allowed to ask that question, it's a supernatural mystery."
"For a 13-year old, that answer isn't good enough," she said in an Ottawa interview.
"From that point on, I was doing it, I was going to Mass, but I was losing touch with it as a force in my life. By the time I was 17, (my faith) was gone."
Savoy's goal was to become a Hollywood actor. She attended Ryerson Theatre School in 1973, while reading a wide range of religious and spiritual teachings.
"Everything left me wanting, wanting, wanting. I couldn't wear any of these as a permanent garment," she says.
She landed a job in London, Ont., hosting and producing a radio program and working as the weather personality on television. She was a local celebrity, making good money and "life was really great."
"I sat down on the front lawn of my townhouse and asked, is that all there is?" Then, she began to ponder the question, "What is love?" She began to wonder if she had ever loved anyone or truly been loved, because she was keeping everyone at a distance.
While she was asking those questions, she found "Christians coming out of the woodwork" who told her she could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Her response? "That's great for you, but we all have our own path."
Finally, she'd heard enough. "I went into my walk-in closet and said, 'Jesus, if you're real, I want you in my life."
"I walked outside, the grass was greener, the sky was blue, I felt like I was on drugs."
She made a career change and moved to Calgary where she landed a job doing the weather and working as a writer/broadcaster for CBC television.
At first, finding she could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ made her angry at the Catholic Church. "I felt like the Catholic Church had cheated me out of this. Now, of course, Jesus is implicit in the Mass and in the Catholic faith, but because it wasn't preached from the pulpit, which is the evangelical's way. I felt like I had been short-changed."
In Calgary, she married a man who re-evaluated his Anglican faith. When they married they chose to go to an evangelical Anglican church, where he later became a priest. She set her acting and television career aside to raise her two sons and lead worship and drama in the church.
As her boys grew up, she felt God prompting her to write. All through the 1990s, she felt an inner prompting but was scared of the idea. When a friend asked her if she felt this was a call of God, she answered yes.
"Then you have to do it as an act of obedience," the friend said.
Savoy obeyed, and started writing in pencil on scraps of paper. The first character that emerged was Laverne, Delilah's hairdresser. She developed a character with a Southern accent who gets a call from Delilah asking her to cut Samson's hair. Then another character sprang into her mind - an East Coast fisherman who has seen the cod fishery collapse tells about meeting Jesus and being asked to fish for men.
Soon she had a whole cast of characters that spanned the Old and New Testaments, but with contemporary twists. She hired a band, chose some songs, changed some lyrics, hired a director and in March 1998, her show debuted in a church in London, Ont., to 650 people "packed like sardines." Her first show set a pattern of standing ovations and rave reviews.
In 2002, Savoy moved to Halifax. In 2003, at a party, she met a Catholic priest.
"As we chatted, I found out that he had had a 'born-again' experience as an 18-year-old through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship through a friend of mine," Savoy said.
"Now we need to come back and evangelize the Catholic Church."
- Fr. James Mallon
'Where you belong'
The priest, Father James Mallon, told her the Catholic Church represented her roots, her home. "Judy, we Catholics go off and become evangelized by other denominations. Now we need to come back and evangelize the Catholic Church. This is where you belong."
That summer, she went to do a musical in Prince Edward Island, and asked God where she should worship when she returned to Halifax.
At a three-day conference in Summerside, P.E.I., featuring a prophetic speaker, she recalls being deep in prayer, on her knees, while the speaker led worship. He said, "You do not need more teaching, you need to worship," and she felt as if those words were meant for her.
Then she says she felt something surge through her body like a bolt of lightning that started from the top of her head to her toes. She heard "The Catholic Church" three times.
"My response was 'you're kidding'," she says.
All her friends in Halifax were evangelical or charismatic Protestants. But when she asked them for their discernment, they told her they believed she was being called to the Catholic Church.
She went to see Father James, and has since been received back into the Church.