The Living Christmas Tree concept at the First Assembly of God Church has been performed for nine years, this being the tenth, but to fresh eyes, it was a holiday spectacle of lights and music with a powerful message for all to hear.
The First Assembly of God presented an uplifting vocal performance on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the church on Oak Street in Rolla. The Living Christmas Tree concept has been performed for nine years, this being the tenth, but to fresh eyes, it was a holiday spectacle of lights and music with a powerful message for all to hear.
The Prelude to the vocal performance of Majesty of Heaven on Saturday evening was performed by Ally Johnson on violin, Kathi Garner on guitar and Levi Vieth on cello. The light string holiday instrumental music was a welcome interlude while guests were still being seated.
Then the lights went down and the Living Tree was a glow with bright red poinsettias, greenery and red and gold garlands.
The church’s pastor, who also would be singing in one of the 54 places on the tree, Pastor Chuck Whitmire, welcomed the performance visitors.
“We’ve never been invited to Carnegie Hall—and we’re probably not going to wow you with our voices. but that’s really not the reason why we’re singing,” explained the pastor. “There’s really nothing better than performing and singing around a Christmas tree. And that is what the Scripture says the Holy Spirit can bring—and that is righteousness—a holiness—a sense of God’s presence in our life.”
Pastor Whitmire also said it’s not only about being in the presence of God, but also receiving His gifts of peace and joy.
The vocalists entered and followed each other in single file, gradually scaling the risers up to the top of the tree, with Amy Jo Russell, dressed as the angel.
It was a glorious thing to behold with around 50 voices singing in the “boughs” of the tree. But to get to this point, work was actually started in mid-September. That’s when Betty May, choir director for the church started “Majesty of Heaven” rehearsals with the various choirs. She started working with 12 to 15 musical programs she liked and with a little divine help, settled on “Majesty of Heaven.”
“It’s a mix of Southern gospel, traditional holiday and worship music,” she said.
To construct the Living Tree took three days and near 100 volunteers.
“We started last Monday and by Tuesday we were finished,” said Betty May, music director for the church. “On Wednesday, the tree was decorated and we held the rehearsal on Wednesday evening.”
Once the choir was seated, the opening number “Majesty of Heaven” jump-started anyone that might have become too comfortable in their church pew. “All My Heart Rejoices” was the next number in the same up-beat drive of the worship music genre, which is celebratory music. Music-backed digital soundtracks lent some professional snap to the vocalists—no flubbed notes here; and allowed the vocalists to sing out with abandon.
“Mary Did You Know” featured soloist George Vinson and a “human video,” to illustrate the song. Under Director Strawn Wisdom, Gannon Breig, Riley Breig, Megan Harrison, Kim Jannick, Tristan Lietz and Mara Parker, performed interpretive movements. Following this artistic performance came a rousing version of “Joy to the World,” featuring the choir and soloist Stacey Berry.
Then the Junior Choir, directed by Erin Gibson, sang “Fear Not.” Spotlighting the ensemble was Wedam Nyaaba, and his lighting was effective, since it featured the young voices backed by the main choir. Natalie Berry, Breindel Collins, Naomi Collins, Gracie Gibson, Hannah Gibson, Josiah Gibson, Emmaline Harris, Isaiah Harris and Emme, Kairi and Lily Knorr sang with a poise not always found in vocalists at this age.
“Christmas Morning,” featuring soloist Debbie Light was also “signed” by Amanda Morris. The program was rounded out with “Tell It On the Mountain,” “The Miracle of Christmas” and crescendoed with the “Tell It On the Mountain Reprise.” The audio tracks were spot on and didn’t overpower the choir. Ken Schmid and Joe Mendoza saw to that.
The majority of the vocalists were members of the First Assembly of God, but were also represented by First Baptist, Kentuck Baptist, New Life Fellowship and The Nazarene Church. Choir Director Betty May said the program is a lot of work but added, “My whole goal is to be a ministry to the Lord.” “We got a nice response from the audiences.” She said she couldn’t do without the help of Stacey Berry and Sandy Schmid and all the volunteers that help every year.
Pastor Whitmire was right. There’s really nothing better than to sing around a Christmas tree, even if that tree is filled with real people and they were the ones doing the singing. The performance was unique and praise-worthy. And that comment by Betty May about the audience response? I think it was sheer joy.