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Carbondale church’s Christmas service is a spectacle of glitz and straw

Joseph and Mary sit with baby Jesus as part of the living nativity at The Orchard Church in Carbondale on Monday eveing.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Carbondale’s version of a mega-church does nothing small, and Christmas Eve is no exception.

The Orchard’s Christmas Eve service started with humble beginnings, but now it’s an audio-visual spectacle.

The program starts as an eight-piece band plays a medley of secular holiday songs, from “Run Run Rudolph” to “Mr. Grinch,” and ends with the traditional Christian story of the nativity acted out with human players, sheep, goats and a donkey.

The story is remembered at Christmas services at churches around the world, but not all of those services have a 12-foot star that lights up at the first notes of “Jingle Bell Rock.”

“Our Christmas Eve services is a gift to the community,” lead pastor Daniel Self said.

About 1,500 people will attend one of the four services held this year, Self said, a far cry from the small carols service when the church in Carbondale started nearly 30 years ago.

“In the beginning, we just had carols and a little program,” said Doug Self, Daniel’s father and the founding pastor of the church. “We were pretty small.”

The second year, the church had a live nativity at the Perry ranch, which is now mostly the subdivision at River Valley Ranch.

As the church grew, so did the Christmas Eve service.

“We used to have pretty full crowds for two Christmas Eve services, then it started getting packed, so we added more,” Doug said.

This year, the Orchard will hold four services, two on Dec. 23, and two on Christmas Eve.

After the main service in the sanctuary, guests come to the outdoor amphitheater where two big fire pits add some warmth to a stable scene, complete with a donkey, sheep and goats.

Some key members of Monday’s cast were roped in at the last minute. The actors playing Mary and Joseph found out about their roles a few days before, when the other leading couple had something come up.

Similarly, Laurie Darling, who organized the live nativity portion of the service, only heard that she was going to be placed in charge on Saturday.

But the nativity reenactment still came together.

Darling thinks the living nativity conveys a human connection with a story most people have heard many times before.

“When you hear the same story over and over, you kind of lose the humanity piece of it. I think seeing it actually acted out with live people brings it into something you can relate to,” Darling said.

Inside the main sanctuary, the main service moves from secular songs to contemporary arrangements of classic carols like “O Holy Night” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Both Daniel and Doug deliver sermons about the meaning of the story of the Christian bible of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem.

There’s also a trivia game (“what spy sits in the house to report back to Santa?”), with a grand prize (this year it was a $100 bill) available only to children under 12.

Eric Kincaide’s daughter won the big prize last year, and the year before that, so Kincaide said he felt like he should give something back. This year, he played bass for the Monday service as part of the worship team.

The message Kincaide hopes the service conveys is love.

“I hope people can see it doesn’t really matter how good or bad you are, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done this year, there’s a savior that loves you,” Kincaide said.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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