The men who will portray statesmen past and present in a patriotic program Sunday are much like the characters they represent.
Take state Rep. Jerry Stern, R-Martinsburg, who has toured with the "Voices For America'' production ever since it began five years ago. Stern portrays a current-day statesman, and he talks about the Christian heritage of America in addition to serving as a narrator.
The production, a musical tribute to veterans past and present, will be staged at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at First Church of Christ, 113 Good Shepherd Road, in celebration of Memorial Day.
As a longtime legislator in Harrisburg and someone who is rooted in his faith, Stern said the role dovetails with two key parts of his life.
Stern is well-known for his many years of public service, starting at the Blair County Courthouse, where he worked first as deputy prothonotary and in 1989 was elected to prothonotary and clerk of courts. In 1992, voters elected him to his current post in the state House.
"What I enjoy about the program is that it speaks of our religious foundations,'' he said. "There are many patriotic parts, and it's very biblical, too.''
If you go
What: "Voices For America"
When: 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: First Church of Christ, Juniata Gap Road
Admission: Free, an offering will be taken to benefit local homeless
Another member of the cast who can relate to his character is Michael Madeira, a former Centre County district attorney who now works for Penn State University. He portrays a statesman from the past, Patrick Henry, the famous five-term Virginia governor and American patriot known for his "Give me liberty or give me death'' speech.
Madeira said he feels a kinship with Henry on several points, including the fact that both he and Henry share the same vocation - the law. He also believes they have the same outlook on the role that religion has played throughout America's history.
"Not only do I aspire to his view of America and God's grace on its founding, I share his view of the importance of Christianity in its foundation,'' he said. "This program recognizes the blessings of God on this country and in its birth. I want to honor and accurately represent that in my presentation of Henry.''
Madeira served as a state deputy attorney general for 13 years until he was elected as county district attorney, a post he held until 2009. He is now a coordinator in the University Office of Global Programs at Penn State. Like Henry, Madeira is committed to his Christian faith.
"I share his belief in the importance of the Bible and faith in America, so as a Christian and public servant, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to play him in this production,'' said Madeira, who has been involved in "Voices For America" for two years.
A third local government figure in the show, state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., is equally a man of allegiance to his faith and government. Eichelberger, R-Blair, has served for many years in local and state government, elected first as a Blair County commissioner in 1995 and as a state senator in 2006. He is well known for his deep commitment to his beliefs.
Eichelberger said the concept that church and state should be separate was not part of the original plan conceived by the people who first created the American form of government more than 200 years ago.
He pointed to the many groups who fled Europe and came to the American colonies seeking religious freedom as one example.
"It's a contemporary misnomer that causes a lot of confusion,'' Eichelberger said. "It was never the intention of anyone to say there should not be any reference to God in our government.''
Like Madeira, this is the second year he has been involved in the program.
Eichelberger plays "Taps'' on his trumpet and delivers an inspirational message. The theme of the message is how the country has often looked for divine guidance, spiritual inspiration and even at times intervention from above, he said.
"Throughout our nation's history, especially in times of our most dire need, we have relied on our God to get us through the worst times,'' Eichelberger said. "That's true for today and going all the way back to Revolutionary War times.''
The "Voices For America'' program was written by Karen Knight, a professional actress who has appeared in Christian theatrical productions, including work at Sight and Sound Millennium Theater in Lancaster.
As someone who grew up in a military family, Knight is familiar with the Armed Forces and wanted to pay tribute to them, said Drew Baker, the producer and director of the production. She wanted to combine that with her Christian background, he said.
"It's to encourage people to support veterans past, present and future,'' Baker said. "And also to call attention to our national heritage, which has its roots in Christian principles.''
Also appearing in the show will be a community choir led by Eileen Mitchell, director of music at Grace Baptist Church in Tyrone, where the program was performed for Veterans Day. Other groups to be on hand include veterans organizations, scouts, active duty soldiers and the U.S. Armed Forces Mothers.
The audience is encouraged to wear red, white and blue to show its patriotism. An offering will be taken to benefit a local group for homeless veterans. For more information about the group, call 717-823-6582.