Pa. church putting on more than just a Christmas play

November 25, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Open Door Church in Chambersburg is wrapping up a little history with a lot of Christmas spirit this holiday season.

Last year the church drew an audience of 700 for a Civil War-era Christmas play, and this year it hopes to triple the crowd with a longer version of the show on three nights.

"Christmas at Home" begins with the birth of Emmanuel Christmas McLaw on Dec. 25, 1848, in Berryville, Va., and spans several decades, focusing on the Civil War.


The play's message touched so many people last year that church members Darlene and Tom Russler immediately began working on ways to improve the show for this holiday season.

"Last year we only had six weeks to put it together. We started on this right after we finished the one last year," said Darlene Russler, of Shippensburg, Pa.

The Russlers, who are both Civil War re-enactors, added to the script with permission from the authors to turn it into a 90-minute program.

The play had an unexpectedly wide appeal.

"I think it was the fact that it was down-to-earth, something people are familiar with since this is a Civil War- based area," said Greg Suders, a church member and re-enactor. "It's something people could relate to and enjoy."

Suders said the play is based on a true story about a doctor during the Civil War who comes to know Christ through a Bible left by a young man he treats.

"The doctor, having gone through the gruesomeness of war, realized this is what he needed," he said.

"The production is going to present not just the true meaning of the Gospel, but the true meaning of Christmas - giving, forgiveness and that we all have the need of a savior," Suders said.

The cast features 12 principal actors, supported by more than two dozen authentically uniformed re-enactors from the 14th Tennessee Co. B, the 3rd Maryland, Co. B, and the 11th Pennsylvania Fife and Drum Corp.

The re-enactors are volunteers who portray actual units that lived and fought in the four-year conflict.

The Open Door Church's choir will also provide the music.

All told, about 200 people are helping to bring the play to fruition, Darlene Russler said.

Performances will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 6, 7 and 8. There will be a Civil War art exhibit by artist Dale Gallon and a full living history Civil War encampment from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 7.

"It's not just going to a Christmas play and going home," Suders said. "The Civil War encampment allows families to really have an experience, ask questions and get a feel for the play and the era."

For ticket reservations, call the church at 717-264-3266, ext. 120, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets are free and can be picked up in the lobby prior to each performance.

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