It's not unusual for a church to stage an Easter pageant during Christian Holy Week. Word of Life Ministries in Hempfield, however, has taken it to a different level.
You could mistake "The Passion of Our Lord," the annual production that the congregation of about 1,500 will stage next week, for a professional production.
But it is -- and always has been -- a strictly amateur presentation.
It started small in 1995 by one couple who had come into the church with an idea for a production that had few -- if any -- speaking parts. But, "every year we added to it, to make it what it's become," said Judy Hopkin, of South Huntingdon, who plays Claudia, a woman from Jerusalem.
The production, which runs about two hours without intermission, now includes more than 100 actors who operate in two teams, 60 choir members, 20 stage crew members, five members of the technical crew and even some live animals. All of them -- except the animals, of course -- are church members or participants.
"You can't just come in and be involved in the play," said Cheryl Altman of Hempfield, who signs for hearing-impaired members of the audience.
Director Lynn Reinsmith of Hempfield noted that the production consultant, Paul DeRose, used to work with Sight & Sound, a group that puts on religious-themed plays near Lancaster.
The presentation will be performed each evening, Sunday through March 29, except for Tuesday, when no show will be held. And if history repeats itself, the just under 1,000-seat sanctuary will be filled beyond capacity every evening.
The church offers overflow seating in a children's area with a live video feed, "but that [also] has only so many seats," Ms. Reinsmith said. "We've had to turn people away."
She noted that the show is not recommended for young children due to the intensity of certain scenes.
Mrs. Altman said the budget for this year's production was $29,000. The congregation does not sell tickets to the presentation because "The Passion of Our Lord" has always been an evangelistic outreach, not entertainment.
"Some of the people who help out came to the Lord because of the play," Mrs. Altman noted.
It has also made for cohesion within the church.
"There have been a lot of friendships that develop from this because we start in January and rehearse twice a week," said Len Cole, of Irwin, who plays a Pharisee, a lay religious leader in the times when Jesus lived.
Even with all that surrounds the production, it contains no real "stars."
"We're kind of a group of nobodies that God has brought together," said Ron Hill, of Mt. Pleasant Township, who plays Nicodemus, another Pharisee.
Shows begin at 7 p.m., with a choral prelude at 6:30 p.m. More information: 724-837-8790 or www.wolonline.org.
Rick Nowlin: email@example.com or 412-263-3871.