It was the Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Guest post from Kathryn Couchman
“Wouldn’t it be great if Bridges performed their Christmas pageant for the whole church?”
I responded with nervous laughter, doubting the viability of the idea.
For the past four years, “Bridges”, our ministry for children, teens and adults with special needs, has put on a Christmas pageant. We had seen the performance outgrow a classroom to requiring a small stage and seating for 200. But the proposal to make our Christmas story reenactment the focal point of two Sunday morning worship services seemed risky. Some of our participants would likely struggle with a new and more intimidating environment. And I wondered if our past success had been as much because we performed in front of familiar faces prepared for unscripted surprises. In the end our ministry leaders agreed to have the Bridges Christmas pageant in two Sunday morning services.
In the weeks leading up to the big performance our students and their accompanying onstage helpers attended regular practices. The rehearsals alone generated obstacles as well as comedic relief. During one practice, the student playing Mary became upset, declaring her intention to withdraw from the cast. We negotiated her return by allowing her to wear her favorite E.T. shirt and to hold a special E.T. picture as long as she was in character. Of course that agreement required some planning and explanation since the E.T. shirt would be worn under a Mary costume on the day of the pageant. Meanwhile, the participant serving as our narrator had some confusion as to the responsibilities of the play director versus the play narrator. Again, our skilled ministry leaders navigated diplomatic conversations with success. And in order to get one of shepherd to cooperate during rehearsals, onstage helpers armed themselves with Skittles, offering a single candy anytime this particular cast member followed direction.
The morning of the pageant our ministry leaders gathered to pray before any students arrived. We asked God to exceed our expectations as we released our own anxieties. And God was faithful. Mary and the Angel stepped on stage, reciting their lines perfectly. Joseph and the Donkey quickly joined them, with others following on cue. At times assigned helpers assisted with lines while our students nodded or said, “yes”, in agreement. Mary gave the baby Jesus doll an unscripted hug before gingerly tucking him the manger. A shepherd who refused to dress in costume instead suited up his favorite stuffed animal in shepherd’s attire and held it up during his performance. At one point an angel plopped down on the stage wildly clapping his hands together and the audience soon joined in. Along the way a few performers ad libbed an extra line or two, but who’s to argue what was really said on the night of Jesus’ birth?
One touching moment occurred shortly after our Inn Keeper rolled on stage. This particular student has limited verbal skills, rarely offering one or two words when he is in our ministry. During rehearsals our Inn Keeper performed by nodding in agreement as his assigned helper spoke the given line. But on the morning of the actual pageant our Inn Keeper surprised us. Immediately following Joseph’s scripted line, our Inn Keeper gestured toward the stable and with his own voice said, “It’s not much, but it’s all I have.” Every ministry investor recognized the significance of his eight words. It was the first time any of us had heard him utter a complete sentence. And the lines he recited seemed so ironically fitting.
As the pageant concluded, the student portraying the star was wheeled on stage. An angel who had wandered a bit during her time on stage suddenly became still and attentive. And in a priceless moment, our entire cast portrayed the essence of the pageant’s closing line,
“Everyone was very happy and praised and worshiped God.”
The audience then joined our performers singing Away in a Manger following it with a tearful standing ovation. Listening, I was overwhelmed by God’s presence. God wanted this beautiful re-enactment of His story for our entire church. As our students exited the stage our pastor stepped to the platform, after taking a moment to regain his own composure and before praying. Later our pastor posted the below sentiment on Facebook:
“Today was seriously one of the most powerful portrayals of the Christmas story. For me, the most incarnational moment was when the innkeeper delivered his line, ‘It’s not much, but it’s all I have.’ That was all the sermon I needed.” ~ Matt Whiteford, Lead Pastor of CrossPoint Community Church
And in case you wondered, for me it was the best Christmas pageant ever. ~ Kathryn Couchman
Kathryn Couchman began serving in CrossPoint Community Church’s Bridges Ministry thirteen years ago as a junior high helper. Since then, Kathryn has worked in numerous roles including monthly helper, buddy, and teacher. Currently Kathryn leads the class of older students with learning differences. CrossPoint Community Church is located in Modesto, California. Checkout Kathryn’s previous post, The Gift.
Alicia Weltner wrote and co-directed the Bridges Christmas Pageant. Alicia is a graduate of the theater program at Azusa Pacific University and the daughter of Kathy Weltner, longtime Director of CrossPoint’s Bridges Ministry. Four years ago Alicia approached her mother with the idea of writing a script for ministry participants. Alicia shares “Over the past four years this little dream of mine has grown into one of the greatest blessings I could possibly imagine. No one can prepare you for the beauty of giving such an important story to those who often have no voice.” In January 2014 Alicia will launch an after school program for individuals with special needs with Azusa Renaissance Theatre Company.