Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh Not-So-Holy Night

This story happened last Christmas, but I wasn't blogging then, so I just HAD to blog about it this year....

The Chapel has been our church home for the past 8 years. In that time span God morphed our church from a group of about 500 people meeting in a high school gymnasium on the most uncomfortable metal folding chairs imaginable, to one church, meeting on 5 campuses, and numbering in the thousands. Even in the early days, the kids program was amazing. Our kids would beg to go to church and moan when pick-up time came. When The Chapel finally got a building of its own and moved out of the high school, the entire downstairs was designated for the children's ministry and built out as Adventure Avenue, with a train station, a real fire truck, a slide, and store front facades on each classroom. It was better than Disney World!

In the eight years we've attended The Chapel I can't recall even one service where children have played a part in the adult service. I'm guessing the reasoning behind this decision is multi-faceted but hinges primarily on the fact that Chapel kids have such a cool service of their own that runs simultaneously with the adult service, and because the multiple weekend adult services force every second of the program to be accounted for, leaving little wiggle room for unpredictability. Kids, as we know, are unpredictable.

Grant and Katie both participated in their school Christmas program, memorizing Bible verses, singing carols, and dancing. Alli, at age 3 1/2 , was very put off that she was too young to participate with them and was enthralled with the baby Jesus in the manger on the stage. She was just young enough to think that maybe, just maybe, the REAL Jesus was laying in that manger and she waited as patiently as she knew how for the program to finish so she could hold the baby Jesus doll.

Just days after the school Christmas program, I received an email from Corrine, the service programming coordinator at The Chapel, asking Grant and Katie to participate in two of the seven Christmas Eve services that were being planned. She was looking for children, ages 5 to 10, to dress up, sing a carol, and look cute. I knew Alli would be devastated to miss out again, so before I said YES for Grant and Katie, I petitioned to have Alli included as well. Corrine agreed to let Alli join in as long as she "wouldn't feel intimidated," to which I laughed out loud. I don't think I've ever seen Alli intimidated by anything and coupled with the fact that she loves to be the center of attention, I had no reservations about her wimping out or crying in the corner.

The theme for the Christmas Eve program was "O Holy Night." The plan was for the 10 children, dressed in hats, scarves and gloves, to open the service and set the tone of peacefulness by slowly carrying battery-powered candles from the back of the auditorium. Our worship pastor, Mark, would sing and play his acoustic guitar while they journeyed through the auditorium, up the stairs and quietly surrounded the manger. When all the kids were positioned around the manger, they would sing "O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior's birth," sweetly say "Welcome to Christmas at The Chapel," then serenely gaze at the manger while Brent, our campus pastor, read the Christmas story from Luke 2. It was a brilliant plan and was executed perfectly, at rehearsal.

The week leading up to the big event, Grant, Katie and Alli sang and sang and sang some more the first verse of O Holy Night. When they launched into "Welcome to Christmas at The Chapel," we'd stop what we were doing and watch Alli. She was so intent on doing it right, and as with everything she does, was overly animated. Her lips seemed to poof way out while she carefully enunciated and announced the arrival of Christmas at "The Shapel." She stole the show at rehearsal, being the youngest and most excited, and demonstrated her singing and memorization skills to anyone who would listen. She even angelically crawled up into Mark's lap and snuggled during the song rehearsal. Any qualms I had about Alli participating dissipated when I saw what a natural she was at performing.

The decorating team went all out to create an illusion of a dark peaceful night. The auditorium was subdued with black lights and white star spotlights. The main stage was also dark with the worship band pushed back and off to the side and a life-size manger placed front and center, with real hay spilling out of it. The 10 kids, divided into three groups, hovered nervously near the back of the auditorium, pulling on their new hats and mittens and playing with their scarves, while parishioners wandered in and filled up all the seats.

Mark walked out on stage, grabbed his guitar and started singing. The big kids went first and it was all I could do to hold Grant, Katie and Alli back and keep them from dashing to the front in their excitement. Finally, we got the cue that it was their turn, and they started their journey to the stage. I followed along behind them, hidden in the shadows, whispering, "SLOWER. Go slower." When they reached the front, I bolted to the back and center of the auditorium so I could watch their performance and not just see their backs.

By the time I got to the sound booth, the kids had just received their cue to start singing, but my heart sank. Grant and Katie were positioned perfectly, front and center, but poor Alli had gotten stuck behind the 10 year olds, who towered over her. Right about the time I was feeling sorry for the audience, who was missing the chance to see the cutest and most animated cast member, Alli emerged from the shadows. She pushed and shoved her way through the big kids and ended up smack dab in the middle, by the manger, where she sweetly and perfectly sang the well-rehearsed words into the microphone buried in the hay. A collective sigh went up from the audience and I'm sure you could see my proud face beaming, even in the darkness. The song ended and the kids, in perfect unison, welcomed everyone to Christmas at "The Shapel."

Brent emerged from the darkness and bathed in soft spotlight began reading the Christmas story in a melodic voice. He read about Mary, Joseph, the census and their journey to Bethlehem. Right about the time Mary was giving birth to a first-born son, I spotted potential for disaster. Alli, who had gotten bored with the story, had begun to explore the manger. She picked at the wood, pulled out some hay, uncovered the microphone buried in it and curiously started tapping on it. Katie, who was standing next to her and is known to always follow the rules and do things correctly, was mortified and began to gently tug on Alli's sleeve. My mind immediately began to play through the "what if" scenarios because Alli does NOT like to be told what to do. Brent, who was oblivious to the scenario unfolding before him, continued to read about angels appearing to shepherds who were tending their flocks by night, while Katie discreetly continued in her efforts to get Alli to toe the line.

Just as the angels were singing "Glory to God in the Highest," IT happened. Straight out of a scene from the Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever, Alli reached her tipping point, and fed up with goody-two-shoes-Katie, turned and shoved her as hard as she could. Poor Katie didn't see it coming and was caught completely off balance. She went flying across the stage and landed unceremoniously on her butt, five feet away from where, seconds before, she had been sweetly standing. A collective gasp rang through the crowd, and I wanted to melt into the floor. I held my breath as I envisioned Katie, our drama queen, either bursting into tears or getting up and initiating a full-on brawl with her sister. Instead, she got up, dusted herself off, and returned to her place by the manger on slightly wobbly legs.

Brent was quick-witted enough to quip,"Hey, hey, hey -take it easy. Oh, it's okay, they're sisters," and continued on with the story. The shepherds in the story visited the baby Jesus and the Chapel kids traipsed off the stage and to the waiting arms of their parents, most of them proud, two of them mortified.

Alli's performance of a not-so-holy-night was so good that she was requested to NOT return for her next scheduled service. Although the punishment fit the crime, I have to admit, I was disappointed. There was something sweet, endearing and certainly memorable about an angelic looking 3 1/2 year old who was willing to chuck her halo and clobber anyone who got in the way of her worshipping the Baby Jesus in the manger.


  1. That is SO Funny! Thank you for sharing it!!!
    I can TOTALLY hear Brent saying those words, not quite sure what to do about it....