New Castle News

October 26, 2013

Making Narnia: Vo-tech students donate time, talents to help church create C.S. Lewis’ fantasy world

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s too bad the Lawrence County Career and Technical School wasn’t around when Aslan created Narnia.

He might have gotten some help.

However, when Savannah United Methodist Church looked to re-create the world of C.S. Lewis’ seven-part fantasy series, the lion’s share of the scenery was created and supplemented by local vo-tech students.

From October through April, the Shenango Township church offers a once-a-month Kids Ministry Night. Pastor Laura Puleo describes it as mini-Vacation Bible School, offering a story embellished by elaborate decorations and costumed adults. Starting last night and continuing through November and December, the theme will be the three entrants in the Lewis series recently made into films: “The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe;” “Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia;” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

Helping to run the children’s ministry at Savannah is Julie Brown, who also happens to teach biology at the Career and Technical Center.  When inheriting the task of creating Narnia – originally credited to Aslan the lion in Lewis’ “The Magician’s Nephew” – Brown approached principal Regina Hiler about borrowing a sleigh that students in the carpentry shop had made.

“Then I asked if we could borrow some of the Christmas trees, because I knew we had a bunch,” Brown said. “That’s when I started to wonder if carpentry could do this, and others could do that, and the pieces sort of fell together.”

Those pieces took the shape of wooden snowflakes cut out by carpentry students; hand-drawn, wall-sized Narnia characters, a pond and face painting from commercial art students; and Turkish Delight (a treat mentioned in the series) and animal-shaped sugar cookies for the children to decorate by the culinary arts department.


In addition, students volunteered to help set up and staff Savannah’s multi-purpose room each month. Last night, it was the winter wonderland of Narnia. Next month, it will take on the trappings of a castle for “Prince Caspian,” and in December, it will set sail as a ship for “Dawn Treader.” Those decorations, too, will be created by vo-tech students.

Brown said enthusiastic reactions were the norm wherever she proposed the project at school.

“I even found kids in my biology class who didn’t have anything to do with making anything, but they just wanted to go to the church to help set up and work with the kids,” she said.

Two of those were Justice Snyder and Lacey Lopes.

“Auto body really doesn’t relate to Narnia,” Snyder said of her area of study.  “But I like helping out in the community and doing stuff for churches with little kids. I’ve done that my whole life in my church.”

“I like doing crafts and stuff and I have time, so I wanted to do it,” Lopes added. “I’ve never read the books but I’ve seen the movies multiple times. I think they turned out pretty cool, but my mom always tells me that the books are better.”

Elizabeth Heitzer from commercial art signed up to do face painting at the event, planning on creating snowflakes and animal faces as a visual link to Narnia.

Kristin Horkey and Rachael Thiele were part of the commercial art crew that created the pond out of paper, plastic and spray-painted foam “rocks.” Such work was nothing new to them.

“This is pretty much what we do any way,” Horkey said. “We’re used to it.”


Still, while the students’ contributions may have ranked among the routine for them, they were considered a special gift by Puleo.

“Without this help, it would turn out to be a lot less,” the pastor said. “We would have had some Christmas trees, but not all that stuff on display and not all the energy and excitement.

“It ends up being a win-win for the church and the school because we get to step it up a little bit and do Narnia on a little bit bigger scale, but they also have the opportunity to use the skills and things that they’re learning at the school, then see that come to fruition, not just doing it for an assignment; they get to see what the kids are going to do.”

All that, she added, is not just icing on the cake, but rather, an integral part of the monthly ministry night.

“My thought is always to go big or go home,” Puleo noted. “I want the kids to be able to walk away from the church remembering the message. All of this reinforces that, so they’re not just coming in and hearing the message and coloring a page. They’re going to experience a little taste of Narnia; to taste it, see it and touch it.

“It’s a lot of work for one night, and some people ask why we do it. But we get this small window of opportunity to impact the kids. It will impact the kids who are coming, it will impact the teen-agers who are helping, it will impact the adults and it will be a memorable experience. We’re not just going to tell this story, we’re going to experience it together, and they’ll remember that for a long time.”