BY NELSON MORAIS
SPECIAL TO THE SUN
More than 150 people turned out in Spring-like weather to hear Christmas-related programs at five downtown churches on Sunday, Dec. 9.
The walking tour, called the 2012 Jingle Bell Musical Pilgrimage, was sponsored by Main Street: Greeneville.
Churches participating in the tour each put on a brief, approximately 15-minute program related to the Christmas season.
They were, in order: Calvary Chapel Greeneville on West Main Street, Christ United Methodist Church on South Main Street, Central Christian Church on West Summer Street, St. James Episcopal Church on West Church Street, and Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church on North Main Street.
Those walking from church to church, who also had the option to drive their vehicle to each destination, were treated to a variety of Christmas topics, from a reading and acting out of the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) at Calvary Chapel, to an interview with St. Nicholas at Christ United Methodist Church, to a rousing rendition of an ancient carol on an organ built in 1845, at St. James Episcopal Church.
Jann Mirkov, executive director of Main Street: Greeneville, said Main Street: Greeneville President Andy Daniels and Peggy Winfree came up with the idea of the Christmas-time pilgrimage at downtown churches.
The purpose, Mirkov said, was to provide a way for the community at-large to enjoy and familiarize themselves with downtown churches they may not have had contact with previously.
The turnout for a first-ever walking tour involving exclusively churches in downtown Greeneville far exceeded the expectations of organizers.
At the conclusion of the two-hour event, Mirkov told those gathered at Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the last stop on the tour, "This is a testament this afternoon of how the holiday season is alive and well in Greeneville, Tenn."
She added, "We've had a wonderful afternoon."
Bobbie Christiansen of Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church said she expected "maybe" 15 people to turn out for the program at her church.
Instead, about 100 people sat in the sanctuary to hear her and Richard Parrack sing "Birthday of the King," written by W.H. Neidlinger; and "Christmas Grace" (comprised of "Away in a Manger" and "Amazing Grace"), arranged by Philip Kern.
Pianist Whitney Ball also performed a solo tune, "Carol of the Bells."
Said Christiansen during a reception at the church following the conclusion of the pilgrimage, "I was pleasantly surprised that so many showed up. I guess it was something people needed to hear -- obviously so."
AT CALVARY CHAPEL
Calvary Chapel Pastor Gary Hall said the theme for the church this Christmas is "In remembrance of His mercy," which is a lyric in Mary's hymn. The hymn is also known as "The Magnificat."
Kaitlyn Miller, dressed in a costume such as the economically poor Mary may have worn some 2,000 years ago, recited from memory the hymn that describes what God had done for her and for others in the past.
The program also included a short videotaped response from people who attend the church concerning how God has shown them His mercy.
In addition, a worship team comprised of Doris Reed, Jen Shepherd, and Allison Connor sang "Jesus is Alive," written by Josh Wilson.
Said Pastor Hall of the Song of Mary, "In it, Mary's soul magnifies the Lord. She believed in God and trusted in His word. Christmas truly is a time to remember His mercies."
AT CHRIST UMC
At the next stop, only a half-block away, the Rev. Ginger Isom, who is pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, interviewed St. Nicholas/Santa, potrayed by Greg Isom.
In the interview, he said the real-life historical figure Nicholas was born in Greece, in an area that is now Turkey. He said Nicholas's parents were devoted Christians.
"I tried to use my wealth and power for good," helping the poor and sick, he said, speaking in the role of St. Nicholas.
Christmas, as it is celebrated in European countries, is considerably different from how Americans celebrate it, he said.
"In Germany, France, and England, you'll find a different holiday. The gift-giving is small. The traditional gifts were food ... and not making a huge list and getting everything you want."
He also said Christmas should be about loving one another, and sharing.
Children were invited to return to Christ United Methodist Church later in the day to sit on Santa's lap.
AT CENTRAL CHRISTIAN
At Central Christian Church, the third church on the pilgrimage, attendees were treated to performances by Beth Casteel, Leslie Wilhoit, Amber Wilhoit, the church's pastor, Lee Harrison, and other choir members.
Elaine Harrison was the pianist.
They sang "Away in a Manger," "Angels from the Realms of Glory," "O Holy Night," "One Small Child," and "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella."
The turnout for Central Christian Church's program was so much more than what organizers projected, that they had to improvise and make many more copies of the program on their copier as people filed in.
AT ST. JAMES EPISCOPAL
At the next stop on the pilgrimage, St. James Episcopal Church, James Winfree played "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" on the church's organ that was built in the mid-1800s.
He then moved to an organ on a second-floor balcony and played "Six Variations on Lo! How a Rose e'er Blooming," "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella," "Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."
COOKIES, PUNCH SERVED
The final performances were at Greeneville Cumberland Prestyberian Church.
After Christiansen, Parrack, and Ball had concluded their musical presentations, cookies and punch were served in the church's Fellowship Hall.