I grew up attending a Methodist church in a town just outside of Scranton. There were many church events that brought the church community together. The women’s group made tables full of Welsh cookies for sale to all the members as a fund raiser. We always bought several dozen and they were the best Welsh cookies I have ever had. There was also a pancake breakfast, organized by the men, that everyone came to and enjoyed.
At Advent and Christmas time two memories are still dear. My favorite was the decorating of the church for Advent by members of the congregation. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, ten to twenty families gathered together to decorate the church followed by a potluck dinner. The decorating included hanging wreaths, setting up a real Christmas tree, mounting a live wreath with the advent candles, and putting candle decorations in the windows of the church, especially the sanctuary.
My father was a line man for the electric company so he was always asked to swap the white lights that lit the steeple to the red and green floodlights for the season. This task involved climbing on to a flat roof followed by another twenty foot climb up a ladder to the ledges where the lights were mounted at the foot of the steeple. It was late November and in upstate Pennsylvania the temperatures were always low and the wind chill real. I of course had to help Dad and I remember helping with this from the time I was twelve or thirteen until I left for college. I would stabilize the ladder for my Dad as he would climb to the ledges. As I got older we swapped who was going up the ladder. When we were done, the steeple always looked ready for Christmas and we were ready for hot coffee, cocoa and a great potluck dinner with the other families. The excitement that this dinner generated in the congregation was exhilarating and carried the entire congregation through the four weeks of Advent.
This led up to the second-best memory of Christmas at our church which was the candle lit singing of Silent Night on Christmas Eve. The entire month built up to the climax of Christmas and the sense of community it generated was palpable. As I got older and moved away the memories of these church events and the sense of community that grew out of them lived on and I missed them.
When I turned thirty-seven I attended several services at St. Peter’s and then joined. The description of the Boars Head festival intrigued me so I signed myself and my daughters up to participate as Woodsmen. I helped pull the Wood Sprite covered Yule log down the aisles with Charlie Rotenbury and I was reminded of the sense of community I had felt and been a part of thirty years earlier.
My family has since participated in the festival for twenty years and we have progressed through the cast roles. As my daughters grew they became angels and then the Virgin Mary. My wife was involved organizing the angels and we enjoyed finding glitter in various parts of the house until the June after the show. I participate as a Wait (dancer) and get the lights ready and help with the show stage craft.
The shear concentration of congregation and community members of the cast, choir, stage and make up crews generates a sense of purpose and community that I remember from the church events of my youth and exceeds that of any other church event I attend.
As we again progress through Advent, Christmas, and finish with the Boar’s Head Epiphany Festival I look forward to experiencing again the comforting embrace of the church community at its best.