Living Christmas Tree offers six free performances
The 2016 Living Christmas Tree at Warrenton United Methodist Church.
By Lynnette Esse Church Member
The Warrenton United Methodist Church Living Christmas Tree will offer six performances Dec. 7-10.
The tradition started in 2001.
This year’s performances will include five new songs. A new skit — written, directed and narrated by Josh Vest, well known for his work with Fauquier Community Theater — will be performed between songs. The theme, based on the story of Scrooge, ties in with the Advent sermon series, offering the message of generosity and compassion associated with Christmas.
Joel Saunders will portray Ebenezer Scrooge; Pastor Tim Tate will play Bob Cratchit, and Samantha Low will be Tiny Tim.
Although the tree holds up to 64 singers, this year the approximately 50 vocalists will have much more elbow room. Ranging in age from 12 to 80-something, the singers come from many different churches. About fifteen accomplished musicians from the community make up the orchestra.
Four people run the lights and other technical aspects of the show, and an equal number work under and behind the tree during the performances. A half dozen ushers hand out programs, collect tickets and help people find seats. Boy Scout Troop 175 manages the parking lot. Several people hand out “will call” tickets, and several others prepare a meal for the volunteers between performances on the weekends. It takes almost 150 volunteers to make this event happen.
Warrenton UMC Music Director Gina Renfro-Smith starts planning and selecting music over the summer, with rehearsals beginning in early September. Twice a week for three months, the singers gather to learn their parts to new songs and refresh their memories with songs from previous years. The orchestra begins rehearsing weekly in November.
“This is our biggest community outreach each year,” said Ms. Renfro-Smith, in her 10th year as director. “When I first got here, it was just the tree. I felt that we needed more movement, more show elements, so we added that.
“The show makes people happy. Even people who are generally sad and lonely during the holidays can find some joy during this show.”
Also added this year is a prayer team, led by church member, Jeremy Vest, who will be available after the show for those individuals who want to talk and pray.
New LED lights replaced the 800 old bulbs in 2015. The 2,300 new lights, use much less power and create no heat, making the singers more comfortable and keeping the energy costs down.
“The old lights virtually ‘cooked’ the singers in the tree,” said Chris Lane, the lighting guru. “The lights were so hot, you could smell the plastic greens heating up. Now, instead of each strand permanently being one color, the color of each individual bulb can be changed throughout the show.”
An anonymous donor covered the tree’s purchase 17 years ago. The $30,000 price tag included the steel frame, greenery, light strands, a music controller and rental rights to the music, “Many Moods of Christmas.”
“Ed Headly and Denny May were the original construction team leaders,” recalled Alice West, the Singing Christmas Tree coordinator since 2001. “Though the manufacturers sent an instructional video, it was very complicated, because the instructions were for a nine-tiered tree and ours has only eight tiers.
“After a few years, Chuck Cromack began helping them and has been in charge ever since. It takes at least seven hours to put it together, including arranging the greens. It weighs almost 3,000 pounds and supports almost 11,000 pounds. It is 21 feet tall and 18 feet in diameter.”
Ms. West added, “It’s almost like giving birth every year. As soon as you see the look of joy and wonder on the upturned faces in the audience at the end of a song and realize the power of well-sung words, you forget the amount of work that led up to that moment, making it all worth it.”
This year’s performances will take place at:
• 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7.
• 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8.
• 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9.
• 4 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10.
Free tickets may be reserved by clicking the “Living Christmas Tree” tab on the church website, WarrentonUMC.org. Tickets are often available at the door, but are not guaranteed.