“I’d rather have thousands of people preach the gospel than just one guy,” said Jim Custer, long-time pastor of Grace Polaris Church (Mike Yoder, lead pastor), Columbus, Ohio, who now serves the congregation as teaching pastor.
How about 100 singers, a 40-piece orchestra, a cast of hundreds, and more than 300 volunteers working on a wide variety of crews behind the scenes? That has been the dedication of the Columbus congregation to preach the gospel through the annual Living Christmas Trees (LCT) concert, which will be performed for the 30th and final time this year.
“The time, commitment, and energy have become a natural part of the season for so many,” said Randy Kettering, who joined the church staff 44 years ago after graduating from Grace College with a music education degree. Currently serving as director of worship arts and media at the church, he has been the conductor for LCT since the beginning. It’s only fitting that he conducts the final performances this December.
However, Kettering stressed that the concert is pausing more than ending. A renovation of the worship center at the church has been planned for some time and will take several months to complete. LCT’s 30th year seems a nice, round number that converges with the plans for the new space – a harmonious close to one era, with high hopes for the next one in the church family.
The LCT concerts began in 1986 after 13 years of seasonal concert events at the church. The novelty of the trees, which house the choir, along with music, drama, media, and pageantry offered a unique way to draw people and tell the story of Jesus.
The team gets into the spirit as early as June or July. Kettering, who directs the music, and Dave O’Roark, who has directed the drama for the last 15 years, develop a concept. They partner with Beth Miller to create a new script for the year. Productions have been as familiar as a Dickens story to as obscure as The Twilight Zone. This year’s play is set on a cruise ship.
The magnetism of LCT also proves unique in both its in-reach and out-reach approach. Kettering emphasized the production allows the congregation to behave like the body of Christ, letting it do something together that individuals couldn’t do alone.
Many of the people who come to LCT (the total attendance has grown to an average attendance of 21,000 people a year) do so because someone invited them. The concert becomes the church’s tool to open a line of witness between themselves and these people. Kettering is adamant about stimulating as many senses for the audience. It is not just for their eyes and ears, but their souls as well.
One night is all that God needs to touch a soul or two. One year, a Marine came to the concert, came to Christ, and wanted to be in the following year’s performance. Kettering asked if he could stand frozen as an angel for an hour. Naturally, he could.
A young woman whose husband had just died as the result of a car accident came with her two young children. All eventually found Jesus. Mom now sings in the choir and her 20-something son had the lead in LCT two years ago. God has used the concert to touch countless lives through the re-telling of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. Those are only two of many stories of people finding faith in Christ through the re-telling of the story of his birth, death, and resurrection. — by Haley Bradfield
Featured image: This year marks the 30th and final performance of Living Christmas Trees, a live, original performance put on each winter at Grace Polaris Church. The event garners 21,000 attenders over 11 performances and three weekends in December.
This year’s Living Christmas Trees will be presented in 11 performances over the first three weekends of December: December 3-4, 9-11, and 16-18. Reserved seating is $15 and general seating $10, available for sale at gracelct.org.
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.