First Church of God welcomes return of Living Christmas Tree for holiday season

PUNXSUTAWNEY — 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.

“We see the Living Christmas Tree as a ministry to our community, and we’re very appreciative of the community support, so we don’t want to let the community down,” Shirey said.

Last year, organizers needed to acquire new technology to operate the lighting system.

“We just couldn’t put the pieces of that together in time to produce a 2009 Living Christmas Tree,” Shirey said. “It wasn’t where we wanted to be, but reality dictated the fact that we had no choice but to suspend our efforts last year.”

He said the good news is that the tree is now back, bigger and better than ever.

“The need for a new computer program was one of the main reasons to not have it last year,” Shirey said. “We’re very excited about the new program. It gives us tremendous ability to produce a great light show — to do that easier than before — and it gives us the ability to expand and grow the lighting side of things in the future.”

Despite the year off, there are still some obstacles to having the program this year, such as not having a full-time music minister.

“For 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,” Shirey said. “Fortunately for us, we have the world’s best pinch-hitter in the choir directing business.

“We are very fortunate to have Mark Kephart as a member of our church and as our interim volunteer music director,” he said, adding that Kephart is very gifted as a choral director.

“Mark has been very dedicated to the task of not only making this year’s Living Christmas Tree happen, but making it the best LCT yet,” Shirey said. “I can’t say enough good things about Mark stepping in to help us out.”

Kephart said this year, the group has selected an exciting musical called “Heaven Touches Earth,” a very meaningful musical that will help people realize the true meaning of Christmas as they come and enjoy it.

“The choir has been working hard since August. Of course, those who’ve been working on the lighting side of things have been working over the course of the year,” Kephart said. “However, there are a lot of people who’ve worked very hard and put a lot of hours in.

“I’ve got to say that this choir, the technical staff and everyone combined is a fantastic group of people who sacrifice and work hard,” he added. “They’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 Tree’s future is indeed bright. 

“We feel this is a ministry with a long life span. There is something unique about Christmas, and even people who don’t normally go to church are receptive to coming to the Living Christmas Tree,” he said. “That 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.

“This is not just about producing a great show, but it’s about using a great show, great music and great lights to focus people on the greatest gift ever given to mankind — Jesus Christ,” 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 year’s program are available to the public beginning at 9 a.m. Monday by calling the church at 938-6670.