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McCandless church's Madrigal Feaste an event fit for a king and his subjects

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Courtesy of Leslie Scheuer
The Rev. John J. Lolla Jr. of Ross Township, pastor of Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless, played Sir John of Bradford Woods during the church's first Madrigal Feaste in 2011. Northmont's 2013 event will be Dec. 13, 14 and 15. Lolla made the chain mail and the helmet. Leslie Scheuer of McCandless made the tunic and flag.
Courtesy of Leslie Scheuer
Carolyn Pearsall of McCandless (left) played Queen Carolyn the Fair, Bill Goff of Ross Township played King William and Diane Goff of Ross Township played the Princess of Wales during the first Madrigal Feaste at Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless in 2011. The church's 2013 event will be Dec. 13, 14 and 15.

It's a feast fit for a king — and hundreds of his dearest subjects.

Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless is holding its second Madrigal Feaste — a medieval celebration of Christmas — at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 and 14 and 4 p.m. Dec. 15 in the church's Polley Hall.

“We want to provide people with a unique experience of Christmas,” said the Rev. John J. Lolla Jr., pastor of Northmont and the writer of this year's production. The first “feaste” was two years ago.

The idea of a Christmas feast was created in the Middle Ages to help celebrate Christianity in a pagan culture, Lolla said.

“Christians took pagan rituals and Christianized them to make them less imposing and more acceptable. It was during this time that Christmas took on a carnival-like atmosphere” said Lolla, 60, of Ross Township. “At Christmas, the king would offer massive banquets. He would open the castle and invite his subjects.”

Such is the setting for Northmont's Madrigal Feaste, which consists of a four-course dinner interspersed with drama, theatrics and Christmas music.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students. Proceeds benefit the youth ministry's summer mission trip to North Carolina and a special worship event during the church's Scottish Heritage Sunday in 2014.

“It's serious, but it's fun,” said Carolyn Pearsall, 63, of McCandless, who portrays Queen Carolyn the Fair.

Polley Hall will be converted into a medieval castle, and church members have been transformed into knights, jesters, peasants and royalty.

Leslie Scheuer of McCandless coordinated the creation of 50 medieval costumes for the production.

“One woman made seven nun's habits; another paid a friend to sew a costume because she couldn't do it herself. We had people dye muslin; others brought old prom dresses for us to re-purpose,” she said.

Suzanne Acker of Ingomar explained how volunteers from the church stitched together yards of muslin as a backdrop for the 70-foot-by-40-foot Polley Hall. “We faux painted cinder blocks, stone columns, and leaded windows,” she said.

Lanterns and torches create the illusion of light in the hallways; candlelight illuminates the dining hall — providing the perfect atmosphere for the feast, which includes roasted pork loin, fresh venison and pheasant, baked potatoes, soup, rustic bread, cheese and wassail.

The church choir and instrumentalists will share a variety of Christmas songs, some authentic to the 12th century. Familiar carols such as “The 12 Days of Christmas” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” also will be featured.

“And if everyone in the cast says their lines as they're written, everything will rhyme,” Lolla said.

The highlight comes in watching the enjoyment that people get from the experience. “There's a real excitement to it all,” he said. “We're experiencing the richness of Christian history, gaining a deeper understanding of what it's all about. And we're having a fun time doing it.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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