By Jason A. Smith
The birth of Jesus Christ was the focus of a continuing holiday tradition at a local church.
On Wednesday, several members of Berea Christian Church, at 37 Woolsey Road in Hampton, prepared for a Christmas Eve Candlelight service scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. Two of the many highlights of the service included the unveiling of a large box, with its contents symbolizing Christ's birth, and a candlelight rendition of "Silent Night," sung by the congregation.
David Fulton, the "Preaching Minister" at the church, said Berea Christian has a long history of celebrating Christmas Eve with special events. "They've been doing a Christmas Eve service probably as long as the church has been in existence, since 1854," said Fulton. "But it's been about the last 12-13 years, we've done [the service] with an oversized prop."
Fulton, 50, of Hampton, said those props have included thrones standing 13 feet tall, a huge manger and a giant birthday cake. In each case, he added, the main thrust of the production was on Christ's birth.
"People that have been here even one or two years in a row, know at some point in time they're going to see the nativity scene at the end of the service, because that's, of course, the focus of Christmas," Fulton said. "Sometimes, our props are very faith-based and religious in orientation, and, sometimes, they're very secular. A birthday cake, you would not think of as a Christmas prop. But at the end, we sang 'Happy Birthday' to Jesus," he said.
This year's featured prop was made with the appearance of a giant carry-out box. Fulton said the concept is an enlarged version of boxes given to area residents by trick-or-treaters from the church at Halloween.
The minister said the Christmas Eve service is designed to counteract commercial aspects associated with the holiday. Some of those, he said, have overtaken the spiritual components of the occasion in the minds of many.
"There's not a Santa-mas," he said. "It's Christmas, a reverence for Christ. That was certainly how the holiday began. We've let it get away from us a little."
According to Fulton, more than 100 person-hours of work went into creating the props for the 30-minute service.
"That, to a lot of people, would seem very extravagant and very wasteful," he said. "But, it's a little bit representative of the extravagant gift that we received. No cost was spared, no effort was spared and no shortcuts were taken."
Fulton was slated to be one of three soloists performing during the service, along with his father, Dennis Fulton, and Greg Moore.
Dennis Fulton, 77, is the minister to seniors at the church. He said churches should strive to honor Christ's birth at Christmas. "We want to be sure that those of us who believe in Christ, hold Him up and put His name out there for people to see," he said. "Every church should be about the fact that God sent His Son," said Dennis Fulton. "Otherwise, we have no message."
Julie Robinson has been attending Christmas Eve services at Berea Christian for the last six years. As she took a break from preparing gift boxes prior to Thursday's event, she said the service has become a vital part of her family's holiday traditions.
"It's not Christmas until we've had our Christmas Eve service at Berea," said Robinson. "When you leave here, you just have that incredible feeling inside that you know what Christmas is about, and you've experienced Christmas. It helps you to be more appreciative of what the day means."