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Ligonier church brings spirit of first Christmas to light

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Daniel Kubus | Trib Total Media
Angel Katie Moser of Fairfield Township and wisemen Rob James of Fairfield Township, John Santmeyer of Latrobe and Ted Murtland of Bolivar take part in the live Nativity.
Daniel Kubus | For The Tribune-Review
Members of Fort Palmer Evangelical Presbyterian Church perform a live Nativity near the church in Bolivar.
Daniel Kubus | Trib Total Media
William Mortoitzer, 4, and his mother Deirdre of Ligonier, interact during the live Nativity presentted by the Fort Palmer Evangelical Presbyterian Church Saturday. on December 14, 2013 in Bolivar,PA.

A light in the sky led visitors to a Ligonier Township farm Saturday evening to experience the presentation of three spiritual scenes of Christmas. Presented by the Fort Palmer Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the one-day production featured a cast and crew of 50 church volunteers.

“It was a total team effort,” said J. Paul McCracken, pastor at the church for the past three years. “It did not feel like work, it felt more like spending time with family.

It is a church like no other. Sharing a fellowship sitting around the bon fire, singing Christmas carols with people you love was the icing on the cake, he said.

McCracken credited the many talents of the congregation — from the sewing group who make the costumes to the musicians and singers, to the volunteers who parked the cars.

“We are blessed to have so many different avenues of talent in the church who had this opportunity to showcase their talents. Regardless of task, they are always ready to step up and do the task.

The guiding star in the sky was actually a sky cannon rented from Windswept in Latrobe.

Although poor weather conditions dampened its affect this year, McCracken said people from as far away as Derry and Blairsville followed the light in the sky just to see where it originated during last year's event.

“They followed our star,” said McCracken. “After they arrived, they got caught up in it all.”

McCracken said the church has conducted a live Nativity at the church for many years but decided to step it up to a more public event after owners of a neighboring farm offered the use of a pavilion for the production. The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she wanted to collaborate with the church to hold the event there.

Farm animals including a donkey, cows, sheep, and a goat were provided by Robert Graham farm.

Nearly 200 visitors attended the event this year to pass through the three-part display.

The first room was designed replicate a old-fashioned reading in a primitive 18th century living room. Volunteers read the Christmas story from the Bible while guests sat on antique chairs on a braided rug.

They captured the sights, sounds and smells in a manger scene with Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, surrounded by the three wise men and animals in the stable. The smell of frankincense and myrrh filled the room.

“We invited the children to come up and touch the animals in the stable and get a closer look at the baby Jesus,” said McCracken. “This experience touches everyone who participates in it. As Joseph, I was sitting beside the Christ child, it felt like I was sitting in the presence of God.”

The final segment of the tour featured a bon fire, refreshments and a Christmas carol sing-along. It takes a year of planning and six weeks to set up but they were never short of help.

“Last year 400 people came through. They came from far and wide,” said McCracken. “It was not the best weather conditions this year, but we did have someone come from DuBois to see the display this year.”

The intent of the volunteers was to represent the true meaning of Christmas and bring the real spirit back into Christmas.

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or