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Northside Baptist Church imagines Christmas

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Dec. 3, 2010 at 6:03 a.m.

Kyle Spiller, playing shepherd boy, holds a live lamb during the nativity scene at the Northside Baptist Church during a full dress rehearsal for the pageant, which opens Sunday.

Kyle Spiller, playing shepherd boy, holds a live lamb during the nativity scene at the Northside Baptist Church during a full dress rehearsal for the pageant, which opens Sunday.

Donning colorful period robes and an authentic first-century Israeli wardrobe, members of Northside Baptist Church were gearing up at dress rehearsal last week for the 26th annual Christmas pageant, "Just Imagine ... Christmas."

A complex, yet entertaining story of the secular and sacred traditions of Christmastime, this year's musical aims to delight about 10,000 audience members about the birth, life, miracles, and death of Jesus Christ, during one of its 12 December productions.

"For those who say 'Faith isn't for me,' they're going to love it. And for those who know Christ - it's a wonderful thing for a believer to see," pageant co-director John Woods said.

Echoing Woods' assertions about the 16-scene musical, co-director Connie Ewing said, "It touches everyone. People will go to this who wouldn't normally go to church."

The show's clever fusion of the historic birth of Jesus coupled with the comic relief of "children imagining Christmas" and live barnyard animals acting on and off cue - camels, goats, birds, horses and lambs are among the animals being used in the show - audiences attending "Just Imagine ... Christmas" are in store for a lively retelling of one of the oldest stories in Christendom.

"It's the story of Christ from birth to resurrection," Woods said. "But it's not simply, or merely an outreach, although it is that. And it's not simply a 'ringing the bells and be happy' Christmas play, although it certainly is that too."

Long before the holiday season arrived, Woods and Ewing began compiling various pageant materials and selecting a theme for the 2010 pageant.

"Music is chosen throughout the year, and it somehow just all comes together," Ewing, the show's 26-year veteran director, said. "Each year, its gets better, and gets bigger,"

After 26 years, the show has become "such a well-oiled machine" that both Ewing and Woods admit so much of the production is handled by its participants.

"Almost the whole church participates in the show, whether it's being in the production, or sewing costumes, or building sets, or making a sandwich," Ewing said. "It takes a lot of participation to put this on, and some things are handled without our ever knowing."

This year, more than 400 participants are involved the show, including 131 children and seven babies playing Jesus. But the co-directors agreed that "ultimately, the play doesn't belong to (them), it belongs to the church."

"Just Imagine ... Christmas" is Woods' second attempt at co-directing the musical. He joined Northside's staff a few months before the church's 25th anniversary Christmas production in 2009.

Remembering his first encounter with the show, the new youth pastor quipped, "No pressure, right?"

Now in his second year directing, Woods said he is more confident than ever that show attendees will enjoy every minute of the elaborate production, specifically the 16 musical numbers that closely follow each Christmas-filled scene.

"My prayer is that when a person walks out of the show, they will have experienced the good news," Woods said. "I think people will see that Christ made a difference in the world and He can make a difference with them too."

Northside's Christmas production is free to the public, though does require a ticket for entrance.


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