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Benefit ‘Lamb of God’ performance draws thousands of people

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ST. IGNATIUS – Audience members packed into the historic Mission Catholic Church on Friday night to experience the musical “Lamb of God” performance.

Volunteers started setting out chairs in the central walking aisle after the 42 pews were filled. A few people stood next to the door while others stood outside the door. After everyone was settled, the music began.

People of all faiths volunteered for different parts in the performance, about 70 performed in the choir, the orchestra included a violin, cello, viola, bass, flute, trombone, French horn, trumpet, tuba, keyboard, piano, and even a harp.

The musical was a fundraising event to raise money to repair cracking murals in the historic mission church. Gauze-like cloth could be seen on the central murals behind the choir as a kind of temporary band-aid.

Janis Cates, program producer, began organizing the event last December after realizing the church needed help to fund the restoration project. The three-night performance raised $33,000 in donations with a matching donation.

She noted that the performance changed her life and called it beyond glorious. She estimated the total attendance for the three-night event was over 2,000. She thanked the volunteers and the “wonderful” performers.

"It just shows a real thirst for this kind of thing in valley," she said. "And it just came from one little old gal's dream."

Built in 1891, the church is listed as an historic building with the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It’s also an active church as part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena. Large wall-covering murals, painted soon after the mission was built, have begun to crack in recent years due to a slowly sinking east wall behind the main altar. The sinking wall, built without a supporting crib wall, was lifted and braced in the spring of 2015 to prevent further sinking. But after the wall was lifted, cracks began to appear on the inside walls. Hairline cracks that were already present became noticeable after the shift.

The biggest crack is on the central wall.

Following an assessment made by mural restoration experts, the church began fundraising efforts to save them. Several groups have stepped in to help, including Cates with the Lamb of God performance.

Director Sarah Murray described the event as the story of Jesus Christ’s atonement and journey. It included five parts. The vaulted ceiling in the church amplified the sound and gave it a full acoustic quality. Deanna Balfour said it was an “awesome spiritual” experience. Dolores Zempel said the acoustics were unreal.

“They must have put a lot of time and practice into this to save the painting because it was wonderful,” Zempel said.

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