Remembering the Pageant

Published 10:44 pm Saturday, December 19, 2009

Commentary by Father Michael Slagel International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church

When I was a child, the build up to Christmas began in October. That was the time when we began rehearsing for the pageant to be performed at Christ Episcopal Church.

My mother, Mary Slagel, and my adopted aunt, Clare Huey, wrote the Christmas story entirely from the book of Luke. There were parts for every child in the congregation. I played every suitable part from the baby Jesus to the coveted reader position.

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The Christmas story and the birth of our Savior became a permanent part of our lives as we grew from part to part. But the fun began every Saturday from October to December and culminated the third Sunday in Advent when the pageant was performed.

Aunt Clare was the loveable, volatile, director who stamped her foot and fussed when things did not go to her liking.

The smaller children hopped too immediately, but the older ones took it all in stride. The older children had come to realize that Aunt Clare’s “bark was much worse than her bite.” We all knew how much she loved us and responded in kind. Mother was the glue that kept it all together.

Mother is an accomplished musician. As such, she handled all the music and taught all of the solos. Often on Saturday evenings she made hot chocolate with cinnamon toast and hosted several soloists to be tutored.

She taught Mary to sing to her child. The Three Kings were taught their solos, and the Ave Maria soloist was transformed. She also directed a full choir made up of the older children who had cycled through the parts. It was quite an undertaking.

It was almost magical to watch mother work. She could take a completely tone deaf child and teach him or her to sing. I watched her work miracles year after year as non singers became credible soloists.

She has extensive theatrical experience and quietly undergirded Aunt Clare as they, together, made the pageant work.

Aunt Clare was a magnificent craftswoman and she made so many beautiful costumes for so many characters. The three kings were always resplendent and their gifts looked real and valuable. We always burned real incense in a beautiful brazier that one of the kings carried as his gift to the Christ Child.

As always, the stars of the pageant were the little cherubs. You never knew what they would do from strip teases to impromptu solos. The congregation always hoped that the cherubs would make it interesting and they never failed.

The 60 year tradition continues now under the direction of my cousins Robert Slagel and Peter Dodgion. The theater has moved to the First Methodist Church. Both directors played several parts as they grew up. Mother consulted for two years, but now, at 95, she is with me in Alabama.

To this day, all of us can quote the King James scriptures from Luke verbatim.

The pageant firmly imprinted the impact of the birth of Christ into all of our hearts with emphasis on the humility of His birth and its significance in our lives.

Thank you, mother and Aunt Clare, for making that possible for so many of us and thank you, Rob and Peter, for continuing the tradition.