Northmont Church to welcome lords, ladies
Everything olde is new again.
When the congregation of Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless celebrates Christmas this year, it will be doing so in grand style by holding its inaugural Madrigal Feaste. The event — rich with song and festive foods — is planned for 7 p.m. Dec. 16-17 and at 4 p.m. Dec. 18.
During three performances, the audience will return to medieval days, when lords and ladies set the tone. The Rev. Jack Lolla, pastor of the church, is no stranger to the period because he had participated in similar events at his former congregation, The Presbyterian Church of Plum Creek in Plum.
When he arrived at Northmont in 2009, he knew he eventually wanted to start the tradition there, after he “heard the beautiful choir and saw the different talents in Northmont’s congregation.”
It didn’t take much persuading for church members when he shared his researched script, set drawings and vision.
Almost 90 members are involved in creating another time and place for crusading knights.
“Most of the people from the church are involved,” said Jane Nicola, a church member.
“They’re sewing, painting and cooking.”
A group effort
Plenty of people have been eager to participate.
“A lot of people stepped forward,” said Suzanne Acker, who is one of 12 set painters who have volunteered.
Acker, Nicola, Linda Richard and Ann Karayu-suf, all of McCandless, keep each other company some mornings while painting castle walls.
Twice a week since the end of August, painters have worked to transform the fellowship hall into a great hall, like the one in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, completed during the reign of James IV in 1511. Lolla’s drawings of his great hall can’t show all of the ornate stone carvings of the original.
Although the church’s hall can’t provide the space of the 16th-century’s 30-foot ceilings, a giant, hand-painted fireplace will provide the illusion of warmth that would help propel feasting and frivolity into the dark night.
“This is unusual for us,” said Lolla, 58, of Ross.
“It’s generated a buzz.”
Costumes, true to the period, are being collected and created. Many costumes have been fitted to the individual characters, Acker explained, while others are oversized to fit a long line of players. Swords, lances, helmets and chain mail are being constructed.
Getting into the mood
And while the “crafty” people are designing, the Chancel Choir is learning music with harmonies that will reflect those early days. Voices will blend with instruments — even the sounds of a troubadour’s lute.
Those who attend will dine on pork, beef — or perhaps some venison or geese supplied by local hunters – on tables lighted by candles in brass holders. Lolla and his wife, Julie, visited the flea market at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Ross to purchase many pairs of candlesticks.
“The production is ecumenical,” he said with a laugh.
While guests dine, a play will explore just how festive Christmas needs to be.
“It was a conversation back then,” Lolla said, “but it’s a contemporary theme.”
In Europe at that time, he explained, the Lord of Misrule was selected by the royalty to organize events during the holiday season. When the boisterous activities overtook the solemnity of the day, Scottish Presbyterians, he said, actually banned Christmas.
“It was becoming like Mardi Gras,” he said.
The pastor will be one of the singers and will be dressed as a local knight whose task it is to defend the crown.
As the feast continues, glasses filled with wassail will refresh each toast and encourage the players.
Among them, soldiers, viscounts and peasants will celebrate the old-fashioned way. In the company of the Archbishop of Canterbury and some nuns — these were the days before the Reformation — the players will welcome in the boar’s head and lay it at the feet of the king.
But as true as this event might be to the customs in those ancient times, it will break with one tradition.
“There’ll be no bones on the floor,” the pastor said. “This will be a real candlelight dinner with knives, forks and china.”
If you go
What : Madrigal Feaste
When : 7 p.m. Dec. 16 and 17 at 7 p.m.; 4 p.m. Dec. 18.
Where : Northmont United Presbyterian Church, 8169 Perry Highway, McCandless.
Registration: Tickets are $25 per person; seating is limited to 110 at each dinner. Call Fred or Sarah Jane Beorn at 724-935-8632.