Monday, April 6, 2009

Memories of Marion

My memories of Marion, Indiana go back to the early to mid-1980's. I was serving a church in a transitional part of town and found it had a lot of traditions. One was to be deeply committed to working with the annual city-wide Easter Pageant. It was one of the most unique and spiritually moving experiences of my life.
We would begin preparing before the end of a year and the work would go on for for at least four months - sometimes more. Our church involvement centered on work around the stage and scenery for me (the stage manager was a member of our church) - and for the ladies it was either preparing or refurbishing costumes. But we were just a small part of it -- people from all over the city were involved in the overall presentation. Usually 800 or so (sometimes more) were in the choir and orchestra - well over a thousand were members of the cast - plus a significant number of others who were in the stage crew, makeup crew, ushers, and so on - more than 4,000 people at one point in its history.. The picture below will give you an idea. It involved whole families and sometimes roles were handed down from one family member to another as the years passed.
The Pageant began in 1938 and lasted fifty years. When it came time for the Easter Sunday morning production at 6 a.m. lines of people waiting to see the Pageant stretched for blocks before dawn. The music became a regular Easter program on Armed Forces Radio network and was heard around the world annually. It was an amazing event considering that the city of Marion has a population of less than 31,000 people. The lower of the two pictures shows the cast of the Pageant enacting a portion of the persecution of Jesus.

I was a "scenery mover" and "rope-puller" for scenic drops on the stage. My wife sang in the choir. Even though we who were mostly out of sight it was a most amazing spiritual experience for those in the production - even behind-the-scenes people. Surely one of the greatest in my personal memory. There was no admission charge that I recall - but the Pageant lived on free-will offerings and industrial and civic contributions.

This holy week I look back with profound memories of a very special Holy Week experience where denominational labels were set aside and folks were afforded of very special view of the Christian story of Easter.

Unfortunately, there have been no presentations of the Pageant for a few years. I understand that the city has fallen on hard times and hasn't been able to underwrite utility costs for the weeks of preparation before Easter, and because Marion has been a victim of industrial cut-backs (especially within the automotive industry) the funds have not been there. But the Pageant lasted over fifty years and one of my treasured memories is being able to the Holy Week story come alive in a most meaningful way. Perhaps in years to come the community will be able to renew this event but like so many things today, it will probably remain only a memory for those thousands who made it possible and who found great inspiration from a community that set aside labels and made Easter come alive.


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