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PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” After a year hiatus for retooling, the Living Christmas Tree returns to the First Church of God in Punxsutawney, with free tickets available to the public beginning Monday.
Ron Shirey, chairman of the tree committee at the church, pointed out that it was a difficult decision to not have the program last year.
â€śWe see the Living Christmas Tree as a ministry to our community, and weâ€™re very appreciative of the community support, so we donâ€™t want to let the community down,â€ť Shirey said.
Last year, organizers needed to acquire new technology to operate the lighting system.
â€śWe just couldnâ€™t put the pieces of that together in time to produce a 2009 Living Christmas Tree,â€ť Shirey said.Â â€śIt wasnâ€™t where we wanted to be, but reality dictated the fact that we had no choice but to suspend our efforts last year.â€ť
He said the good news is that the tree is now back, bigger and better than ever.
â€śThe need for a new computer program was one of the main reasons to not have it last year,â€ť Shirey said. â€śWeâ€™re very excited about the new program. It gives us tremendous ability to produce a great light show â€” to do that easier than before â€” and it gives us the ability to expand and grow the lighting side of things in the future.â€ť
Despite the year off, there are still some obstacles to having the program this year, such as not having a full-time music minister.
â€śFor most churches, the lack of a full-time music minister would be a stake to the heart of any big program like the Living Christmas Tree,â€ť Shirey said.Â â€śFortunately for us, we have the worldâ€™s best pinch-hitter in the choir directing business.
â€śWe are very fortunate to have Mark Kephart as a member of our church and as our interim volunteer music director,â€ť he said, adding that Kephart is very gifted as a choral director.
â€śMark has been very dedicated to the task of not only making this yearâ€™s Living Christmas Tree happen, but making it the best LCT yet,â€ť Shirey said.Â â€śI canâ€™t say enough good things about Mark stepping in to help us out.â€ť
Kephart said this year, the group has selected an exciting musical called â€śHeaven Touches Earth,â€ť a very meaningful musical that will help people realize the true meaning of Christmas as they come and enjoy it.
â€śThe choir has been working hard since August. Of course, those whoâ€™ve been working on the lighting side of things have been working over the course of the year,â€ť Kephart said. â€śHowever, there are a lot of people whoâ€™ve worked very hard and put a lot of hours in.
â€śIâ€™ve got to say that this choir, the technical staff and everyone combined is a fantastic group of people who sacrifice and work hard,â€ť he added. â€śTheyâ€™re doing this because of what they want to bring to the community, and the message of hope we want to share with the community.
Shirey added that despite the obstacles, the Living Christmas Treeâ€™s future is indeed bright.Â
â€śWe feel this is a ministry with a long life span. There is something unique about Christmas, and even people who donâ€™t normally go to church are receptive to coming to the Living Christmas Tree,â€ť he said. â€śThat dynamic is what excites us. The Living Christmas Tree is a tool to ministry, and it has a unique ability to draw people into the church.
â€śThis is not just about producing a great show, but itâ€™s about using a great show, great music and great lights to focus people on the greatest gift ever given to mankind â€” Jesus Christ,â€ť he added.
The program is scheduled for Dec. 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, and 19 at the church located at 23 Skyview Dr., Young Township.
Free tickets for this yearâ€™s program are available to the public beginning at 9 a.m. Monday by calling the church at 938-6670.