Christian churches have had "Passion Plays" for centuries but St. Michael Catholic Church has only had its "Living Stations of the Cross" since the late 1980s, when Fr.Denny Dempsey brought the idea to the liturgy committee, and a small group of about six to eight people acted out the passion and death of Christ.
With makeshift costumes, music, a lector and a narrator, the first "Living Stations" was performed, and has continued to this day.
So many years and many volunteers later, the costumes are more elaborate and the acting and special effects much more polished, but they still have the same impact to the audience as they did from the beginning.
The group works for a just a few days to get the cast, costumes, and lines figured out but they are pretty efficient after all of these years. Most of the cast members have been previously involved in the production or have learned it from family members who have been long-time members of the group.
For instance, this year, "Mary" was the actual mother of the man who played "Jesus," and another brothers played the role of "Simon" (who helps Jesus carry the cross). There were others from this family and many other family members of parishioners who took part in the passion play this year.
Tim Duerr, who has been the narrator every year from the group's inception, keeps the list of cast members and the related paperwork from year to year and is the one who calls to organize the event every year.
He told of how the paper that the narration was written on was so worn out after so many years, he had to have a relative re-type it for him. He also recalled how (in the early years) some of the cast members would go out to eat in town, before a performance, in their costumes. That must have served as a reminder to their neighbors to join them in the performance and also to remind them of the season, as the "Living Stations of the Cross" is performed during Holy Week.
It is always striking to hear the hammering of the nails, the whipping lashes, the women weeping and the sound of thunder as the actors depict the Biblical story of Christ's passion.
Many people are emotionally affected by the performance and there are quite a few wet eyes at the end as they bring the "body of Christ" to the back of the historic church, covered by a cloth and in much the same manner as many of the parishioners' loved ones have made their exit from the church.