Community Christmas Celebration: Behind the Scenes

The program is exceptional,” Greenwood resident Katie Rogers said. “The quality is comparable to the Indianapolis Yuletide. The talent last year blew us away. It brings the Christmas spirit to people’s hearts just before the holidays.”

Few celebrations herald this festive time quite like the sweet serenade of choirs and musicians spreading good cheer through classic holiday music. Seeking a way to share the miracle of the Christmas story with the community, Mount Pleasant Christian Church (MPCC) presents Christmas at Mount Pleasant Christian Church from Dec. 12-14.

The service is an hour and a half chock-full of Christmas joy, complemented by orchestra and band arrangements, choirs, solos and the pastor’s message of the birth of Christ. With an annual attendance of more than 6,000 people, I have always questioned what happens behind the scenes to make a service such as this one. I invite you to join with me in finding out.

The Genesis
In 2008, pastor Chris Philbeck heeded the church to follow the gospel in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Individuals, small groups and entire ministries began thinking about how to be good disciples. According to Brian Tabor, MPCC’s worship and arts pastor, the genesis of the special Christmas services started out of this call. “It’s our gift to the community,” he said.

With such a large production as this special Christmas service, planning and preparation are essential. Tabor explains by the time the special Christmas services arrives, over 500 volunteers will have helped with its production.

Beginning in May, Tabor listens and analyzes the message of various types of Christmas music. By elimination, he determines the songs for the five services. Solos, instrumental pieces and choral music are all chosen with the meaning and flow of the service in mind. When asked what keeps him going in this time-consuming process, Tabor smiled and said, “Preparation. With healthy preparation, whether for a small service or a big one, I know the end product will be spiritually moving and technologically sound.”

Worship Programming
Next on his list, Tabor meets with MPCC’s worship programming pastor Joey Santos. They discuss the background setting and mood needed to accentuate each number. With the utilization of an environmental projection system, Santos and his team are able to project videos, images and graphics on a 150-foot by 20-foot screen.

Breaking the service down by seconds, Santos draws from each song’s desired mood and setting to synchronize the music, the projectors and lights. For instance, if the song is “White Christmas,” he may use as a backdrop an outdoor scene with snowflakes lightly falling. He also incorporates lighting into the scene to create the mood of the music. Using the same example, Santos might synchronize the music and the snowy scene with a splash of blue to represent the feeling of a cold, snowy night.

After determining the setting and mood for each song, he searches the computer for videos and graphics that might fit each type of music selection. Once this is accomplished, Santos sends the detailed information to engineers, who reconfigure the environmental projection system through a computer program.

“We want the special Christmas service to welcome people in,” said Santos. “We want them to embrace the moment, feel a part of it. The synchronization of the lighting, music, and the environmental projection system allows us to do that.”

New to the special Christmas service will be the opportunity to take advantage of MPCC’s online campus, an interactive way to experience worship. “Whether you are close in proximity or around the world from us, this year we welcome you to participate in our special Christmas service online live Saturday, December 13 at 6 p.m. EST or Sunday, December 14 at 10:45 a.m. EST. Visit for more information,” communications director Johnette Cruz commented.

Children, ranging from age 4-years-old to sixth grade, bound through the doorway of Mount Pleasant’s chapel. These children make up one of the two groups that form the 170-person children’s choir. Under the direction of Kelli Sponsel, along with volunteer assistants Debbie Costin, Johnette Cruz, Jennifer Dice, Becky Lollar, Deanna Munn and Donna Vaught, the women gather the children together to rehearse three Christmas favorites. In addition to rehearsals, each child is given a CD and a sheet with the words on it for practice at home.

The second group of children practices during the MPCC’s pre-K and kindergarten classes. One day a week, they meet with Sponsel to practice. Under her leadership, the children are learning the words and all the motions to the songs. One of the songs, “Christmas Love Song,” will delight the audiences this year as it features two soloists and a live Nativity scene. “I love seeing Christmas through the eyes of these children. Their energy is contagious,” Tabor said with a grin.

High energy is not only in the children this season, but it is in the musical pieces of the adult worship team as well. This talented group of people consists of 70 MPCC choir and instrumental volunteers. By popular demand, the adult worship team will be bringing back some of the favorite tunes from the past, such as “O Holy Night.” Audience members will be amazed at the energy of “Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain\Hallelujah,” as performed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Noted as another energetic and gripping tune, the orchestra and band, along with three soloists will claim the spotlight with the song, “All Creation Sing (Joy to the World).”

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The Finishing Touches
The days leading up to the services seem crazy and chaotic. Santos and his team have received the environmental projection system’s programs. The next 48 hours are crucial. The team, along with Santos, work through the night installing the necessary lights, cameras and system programs. The final changes are applied with painstaking precision.

Opening night excitement will fill the air. While the children file into the Worship Center, behind the curtain, Tabor will bow his head in prayer: “… May You help this audience leave this Worship Center with their hearts ready for Christmas.”

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