On Sunday, Jan. 1, Smith will bring his Parables of the Potter to Delaware County as he provides the message in a special New Year's Day service at First Baptist Church in Jay.

JAY — In 1983, as a newly-graduated art student from Missouri State University, Joe Smith traveled to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

He planned to spend the next few weeks filling a summer role at the Great Passion Play before moving on to another job.

As Smith jokes, his summer never ended.

Thirty-three years later, Smith has served as the potter at the Great Passion Play. For many of those years, he also filled the role of Jesus within the play itself.

Now, he said, as he "starts to get grey everywhere," he continues to share his faith through pottery and as one of the directors of the play.

On Sunday, Jan. 1, Smith will bring his Parables of the Potter to Delaware County as he provides the message in a special New Year's Day service at First Baptist Church in Jay.

During the service, which takes place at 10:50 a.m., Smith plans to provide an expanded version of the talk he gives to Passion Play guests before each performance.

Using an electric potter's wheel, he plans to make a vessel and relate the creation to his faith using scriptures.

He said pottery provides a medium to share faith because he is able to use the physical aspect of making a vessel to relate the spiritual aspects found within the teachings of Jesus.

"I feel like I'm where God can use me," Smith said. "It's a little different than standing up and preaching on a Sunday.

"Every group is different. I'm able to connect with people all around the world. That's what I enjoy about it."

More about Smith

Smith, who grew up in Springfield, Missouri, first began sharing the role of potter with another artist at the passion play.

Eventually, his offerings before each performance evolved into using scripture to relate it to his work as a potter.

The 20-minute presentation, one of several at the time, eventually grew. Smith estimates that more than seven million visitors to the play have had the opportunity to listen to his message.

"I like to be able to connect with people in different ways," Smith said. "This is more personable, a chance to be one-on-one with people.

"In the play, you are more removed from the audience. In this way, you can actually see people, see how their hearts are being touched."

Smith creates two kinds of pottery at the play - some functional and some that serve as decorative art. Some pieces feature carved designs.

Smith said his love of pottery grew over the course of his lifetime.

"It's something I enjoy doing with my hands," Smith said. "It's really peaceful and relaxing.

"Sometimes when you just enjoy doing what you are doing, it opens up areas for God to speak through it, and if you are quiet, you can listen to his voice."

Smith and his wife, Shelly, married in 1984. A native of Eureka Springs, Shelly Smith also worked at The Great Passion Play since she was a teenager.

"She's one of the few original [people] still there," Smith said.

Since 1983, the couple have worked together at the art gallery at the play. Their daughter, Skyler, grew up doing "all the different parts" in the play. She currently works in the sound and lighting division.

For more information about Smith, persons interested may visit www.greatpassionplay.org or www.wearetheclay.com.