LAPORTE — It has more than 200 parishioners and a choir, but this New England-style church is mechanical and a gift to God for making it home safely from World War II.
The miniature Giese Church at the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum is plugged in again for the holidays.
"Parents and grandparents bring kids to see it now like they did when they were little," curator Susie Richter said.
According to local historians, it was during the Battle of the Bulge that Otto Giese made a pact with God to do something special if he made it home to LaPorte safely.
He worked with craftsmen and corporate heads locally to design and build the lifelike church with parishioners, including mothers and their babies, in every pew.
The sound of church bells typical for that time period ring out at the push of a button followed by recordings of "Heaven and Nature Sing," "Joy to the World" and other songs church choirs typically sing at Christmas.
A full 28 wooden choir members powered by a conveyor and holding lighted candles make their way down the aisle.
Next, a minister also made of wood and belt-driven, comes out from behind the altar with a recorded message about the true meaning of the season before kneeling in front of an image of the last supper.
"It’s just amazing and they're real dolls. Not video," Richter said.
Originally, the church during the season was on display outside a funeral home Geise operated at Chicago and Harrison streets in LaPorte.
After retiring in 1978, Giese donated the church to the museum, where it’s been out for the public to see ever since.
Giese was 90 when he died in 2002.
Richter said it used to be difficult to find replacement parts for the church.
But, since a 1994 restoration, much of the church is powered by computer, so there are fewer parts and less maintenance.
"It’s not Christmas until you watch the Giese church run a few times. It’s just a wonderful LaPorte tradition to have," Richter said.
Almost every year, 67-year-old Mike Stoler said he made the short walk from his childhood home on Jefferson Avenue to look at the church, especially on Christmas Eve.
"It was quite the thing. I think everybody looked forward to it every year," Stoler said.