This year marked the 40th annual presentation of the Living Christmas Tree production at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, but like so many events in 2020, this year’s production had a few adaptations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Masked musicians, fewer singers in the Christmas tree structure and limited sanctuary seating were just a few of the changes.
But the musical selections and the event itself maintained its purpose — “to lift high the name of Jesus and give you hope,” pastor Mark Bethea told those in the sanctuary audience and those watching from home.
Musical Christmas programs and spectaculars like the Living Christmas Tree at First, Montgomery, are a staple this time of year.
Opportunity to reach the community
They present an opportunity to reach out to the community and bring in unbelievers for a time of fun, worship and gospel presentation.
But Christmas looks different this year for everyone — and for some more than others. Churches across the country have had to cancel their events or at the very least host them virtually.
At Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, where the first Singing Christmas Tree — a 40- or 50-foot-tall structure holding hundreds of choir members — was held in the 1930s, a lack of rehearsal and personnel was the problem with holding the celebration this year.
None of the choirs on campus have sung together this year because of the risk of COVID-19, said Belhaven President Roger Parrott. And the school’s students were sent home at Thanksgiving. Bringing them back to do the Singing Christmas Tree, held outdoors each year at the school’s football stadium, made no sense.
At a virtual workshop hosted by the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, Mike Harland, who serves in worship leadership at First Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, shared how his church will be handling the Christmas season.
A great tradition
“I inherited a great tradition,” he said. “Last year was the 50th anniversary of ‘Carols By Candlelight’ Christmas worship, which we can’t do this year. The question was ‘since they can’t come to our house, how can we get to their house?’ So we’ve purchased local TV airtime for a program featuring our pastor and musicians.”
Down in Florida, First Baptist Church, Orlando, is getting around the lack of in-person performances featuring its Singing Christmas Trees by filming a series of short Christmas-themed videos to be shown at services during December, said Jonathan Hickey, the church’s creative arts director.
At least a few Singing Christmas Trees will go on with the show this year, with some adaptations.
Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, has moved its Singing Christmas Tree from the church’s sanctuary to a nearby park this year, said Thomas Sunderland, associate pastor of music and media.
Prompted in part by COVID-19 and by a major renovation of the church’s building, Sunderland said, the Singing Christmas Tree will be smaller, with no star, one less level and 70 singers, down from the usual 100 or so. They will be six feet apart, and some will stand next to the tree, rather than on it.
Sunderland said that having the tree outside will help limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. The audience will also be socially distanced.
“In the end, God spoke to my heart to do the Tree,” he said in an email, while admitting that things could change before the three scheduled performances are completed.
“God could shut it all down tomorrow,” Sunderland said. “It belongs to Him, not me, not our music ministry nor our church.”