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Christmas productions back with a bang

Churches fired up after pandemic check on Yuletide shows

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2022 | 12:08 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer

After scaling back services for the last two years as a result of the pandemic, local churches are fired up for a return to their 2022 Christmas productions with capacity audiences. The recitals typically feature a range of choral and solo...

After scaling back services for the last two years as a result of the pandemic, local churches are fired up for a return to their 2022 Christmas productions with capacity audiences.

The recitals typically feature a range of choral and solo performances along with dance and the dramatisation of Jesus’ birth story.

Particularly energised is Reverend Stevenson Samuels, senior pastor of the Waltham Park Road New Testament Church of God, which is well known for its dynamic musical showcases over the years.

When he first joined the church in 1998 as assistant pastor with responsibilities for music and worship, Samuels brought his love for the rhythmic vibrations of Christian music, his experience as a bandleader for many years, and putting on similar productions at The University Chapel, where he serves as the Pentecostal chaplain, to found the church’s annual Christmas cantata.

“When I came to Waltham Park, ... I came in and found a pretty strong group of persons who loved music and did quite a number of things,” he said during a Gleaner interview, referencing the church’s major Easter cantata production.

“ ... We put together a nice-sounding audition choir [of approximately 90 members] and we decided [to] present the message of Christ in this very significant season ... and so there it started,” he explained of the addition of the Christmas edition.

Although he had served as pastor for many other congregations over the years, Samuels, who took over leadership of his home church in 2020 from Bishop Roy Notice, said he is pleased that the church has maintained its standard over the years and has expanded its Christmas production to include taking activities to neighbouring communities.

“That kind of evolution of moving high-quality material from a controlled, sophisticated environment ... into on the street. You cannot beat that,” he said, describing the act as one of social transformation.

Offneil Lamont, the immediate past music director who engaged in many of these events, told The Gleaner that the community aspect of the showcase also involves treating the children.

He noted that it sometimes takes up to three months of preparation and the support of other church departments and external partners to make the event a success.

Lamont said he had been motivated to be involved in the production ever since watching the production as a 10-year-old boy, adding that the cantata has been impactful in the community, giving people in the creative industry an avenue to “unearth all that they have inside”.

Along with the church’s own poetry group known as Positive Influence, the Christmas recital features the mass choir, cantata choir, the children’s choir and, on occasion, guest performers.

Andrea Roberts, the current music director, stated the church was fortunate to have worked with Digicel’s D’Music streaming service last year to allow people to tune in from their homes in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands.

She said they are grateful for the chance to rejuvenate it without the restrictions of the last two years.

“Coming out of a pandemic, where there was just limited involvement by persons inside the church, this year, we are opening it up [and] the choir will be as large as participants can be involved,” she said.

The in-house Christmas recital will be held on December 18, with the community cantata to take place on the 11th.

The Reverend Phillip Johnson, senior pastor at the Fingers from the Heart Ministries, is also looking forward to his church’s cantata.

No longer bound by the COVID-19 restrictions, Johnson is delighted that congregants will be able to interact physically as they share the story of Jesus’ birth with the community.

“One of the greatest messages in Christmas cantata, in my opinion, is the message that speaks to the birth of Christ and the reminder for us that Christianity is really a cause for humility,” he told The Gleaner.

He added that this message touched people’s hearts, regardless of where they were in life, the difficulties they overcame, or the successes they had.

“The exciting part for me is to get that message out in the season, where we say this was the season where He was born,” Johnson said, stating that the debate on what exact day Jesus was born was secondary.

The recital, which will feature children, young adults and mature folks, will take place on December 18.

He said that one of the greatest things about this Christmas tradition was that it incorporates young people.

“Our youth today have been hit hard in so many years. The pandemic has sent our youth in a place that they have never been before. What we see happening in our schools now is not just something that just came overnight ... [but] when they get this opportunity to express themselves in a series like this, in a production like this, I believe it has a great impact on their lives,” he said.