By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Writer
This weekend, attendees of the Hokes Bluff Women’s Conference will be entertained by the ladies of Sista Act – Etowah County’s very own Baptist nuns.
“That’s actually what people say when they call, that they want ‘the Baptist nuns,’” said Louanne Wright, the group’s creator and leader.
A nod to the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film Sister Act, these “Sistas” perform some of the song and dance routines featured in the film, as well as a few others that they have developed since the group got its start three years ago at a College Heights Baptist Church ladies’ Christmas tea.
“Some people in the church were having a hard time, and we just wanted to bring them some joy that Christmas,” said Debbi Barnett, one of the Sistas.
Barnett performs “Oh, Happy Day” from Sister Act.
Wright had performed a similar act several years earlier and began recruiting people to help her put the number together again.
Wright, Barnett, and the rest of the group prepared for months, practicing in equipment closets so that the routine would be a surprise at the Christmas Tea.
Since that first performance, the Sistas have taken their act to at least 25 other events, invited to each only by word-of-mouth.
“We’ve never asked anybody to let us do it, but whenever somebody calls us, we will go do the routine for them if they’ll just feed us,” Barnett said with a laugh.
Despite the fact that they do not charge for their appearances, the Sistas often receive love offerings from those who invite them to perform. They use these funds to pay for gas and new uniforms, and for tithing.
The Sistas have performed for a wide variety of audiences, including nursing homes, churches, conventions, and organization meetings.
After this weekends Women’s Conference, the Sistas already have three engagements booked for the Christmas season.
“There are so many people going through times of trial, and they could use a little laughter and a little joy, especially around Christmas,” said Wright.
The laughter isn’t limited to the time the Sistas spend on the stage. Wright, who plays the part Whoopi Goldberg plays in the movie, said putting a group of Baptist women in nuns’ outfits was bound to result in some funny stories.
“Once, when we performed at a church in Steele, we had to wait outside on the porch for a few minutes.
“The church was right on the highway, so we waved at the cars as they went by, and I think some of them nearly wrecked – a group of nuns standing outside a Methodist church, waving!”
The act has brought happiness to many audience members, but also to those on the stage. Besides Wright and Barnett, the nuns include Renee Gunter, Anne Long, Karla Joi-ner, Debbie Runner, and Lou Ann Downey. Craig Barnett plays the priest, and Jim Runner announces the group.
“We all just have a wonderful time doing this, and it has ministered to us as much as anyone, I think,” Wright said.
Barnett says that, besides bringing the group together, the act has brought a couple of its members out of their shells.
“One of these women has always been extremely bashful, but when she gets out there and yells and sings, she’s amazing!
“Our congregation couldn’t believe it was even her!”
The Baptist nuns never believed that their Christmas Tea act, practiced in broom closets and performed to cheer people up, would grow into something that would have such an impact on the community.
But their primary goal remains the same as it was when they first stepped onstage.
“Our purpose is just to bring people joy, and to show that you can be a Christian and have fun. So many people need that, and the Lord has used us for that purpose,” said Barnett.
Wright, too, considers the group a blessing in her own life.
“It’s a time of joy for us, too, and I’m just thankful the Lord brought us together.”