Living Christmas Tree comes to life

After weeks of practice, the choir members at Bradenton’s First Church of the Nazarene found themselves up a tree.


But that’s not unusual for this time of year.

The church is preparing for its annual Living Christmas Tree event, which begins 3 p.m. Saturday with performances through Dec. 13.

The program is one of the hottest Christmas tickets in town, attracting an estimated 7,000 people annually.

In its 27th season, this year’s tree program — dubbed “Christmas Light” — features a couple of new attractions with Denny Thomas, the church’s new worship director, orchestrating the event.

Just four months on the job, Thomas has taken on the challenging holiday production with ease.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Thomas, a Bradenton native who has orchestrated other similar productions elsewhere. “I’ve really enjoyed it. With this church especially, there’s been so many people that come along to help.”

After the church’s last worship pastor, Scott Kelley, took a position at a church in Colorado earlier this year, members wondered if they should even try to attempt a Living Christmas Tree production in 2009.

But senior pastor Tony Miller encouraged them that the show, and its 6,000 sparkling tree lights, must go on. So the tree committee started the year-long planning process with no full-time music director in sight.

Then Thomas came along in July.

Those working with the new director on this year’s tree said he has been a blessing.

“He’s awesome,” said Kim Grant, who has helped with the event for 22 years. “He’s brought a freshness, newness and excitement to it.”

This year’s tree production will carry on a tradition started last year that features two Christmas trees standing 32 feet high. About a hundred choir members from the community will fill them, singing an assortment of Christmas carols and hymns.

The program also features drama, dancing and crowd favorites like The Monks. New elements include pre-show entertainment of a living Nativity scene outside the church during evening performances and other entertainment from area schools and organizations.

With the theme of Christmas Light, the drama follows a character who doesn’t grasp the true meaning of Christmas. He equates the season with the monotony of rigging Christmas lights. He encounters other characters that help him shed light on the holidays.

“It’s more than just hanging Christmas lights,” Thomas, a Southeast High School graduate, said of Christmas. “It’s the light on the inside that counts. Without Jesus Christ, whatever we do is in vain.”

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

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