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Northside Baptist Church hosts Christmas pageant

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Dec. 2, 2011 at 6:02 a.m.

Jaymie Sciba, as Mary, holds infant Breanne Chapman, playing baby Jesus, under the star of Bethlehem during dress rehearsal for Northside Baptist Church's 2011 Christmas Pageant at the church. The cast includes nine infants who play baby Jesus during the different performances.

Dressed in playful Latin-inspired costumes, cast members of the 27th annual Northside Baptist pageant mambo to center stage. Moments later, a 20-foot, silver, illuminated Christmas tree raises from the stage and dozens of cast children file down the aisles of the sanctuary.

Young and old, the cast cha-cha-chas across the stage, while rehearsing songs from the two-act Christmas pageant, "Rio!"

Told in two parts - a secular, Latin-infused rendition of Christmastime, followed by a first-century re-telling of Jesus' birth, death and resurrection - Northside's pageant has become a beloved tradition of the holiday season.

Each year, the church selects a different theme for Act 1 and compiles the musical score throughout the year. Then about two months before opening night, more than 400 pageant volunteers come together to pull off the near-two-hour production.

"It absolutely is a ministry. There are people who come to see this show who would never step foot in a church," said cast member Carmelita Kessler. "It's a story we need to hear."

With her husband, Richard Kessler, the pair participates in the pageant annually, volunteering for whatever roles are available.

"All year long, I receive a lot of blessings from the Lord. This is a chance to give back and use some of the gifts he's given me," Richard Kessler said. "The role,"// I'm given, "doesn't matter because it's not about me."

The Kessler's aren't the only married couple in the pageant this year. Married couples and parents and children use the show as an opportunity to spend together during the holidays.

Beth Spiller, who has participated in pageant for 18 years, said each of her four children look forward to the show every holiday season.

"My daughter has waited her whole life to be the flying angel," giggled Spiller, discussing her daughter Kelsy Spiller.

In her first year of the pageant, Kelsy said her son Kristopher Spiller played the role of baby Jesus. Eighteen years later, he's playing the role of a bridegroom.

"He's all grown up," Spiller laughed.

Cast members and the show's co-directors John Woods and Connie Ewing, agree it's a Christmas play like no other in the Crossroads. Live camels, donkeys, birds, horses, goats and other barnyard animals, as well as first-century costumes, men on stilts, cast members dressed as angels suspended from the ceiling, are just a few surprises the audience will experience this year.

But even though the production varies slightly each Christmas, the crux of the story remains the same.

"It's meant to draw people in, to enjoy the lighter side of Christmas," Woods said. "People show up to see what the theme is, and leave with the story of Christ. We wouldn't do pageant if it was just the secular part."

An estimated 9,000 people will see one of the church's 11 productions, shown Dec. 5-11 at 6:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.

And while the holiday season is primed for days of rushed shopping, traveling and parties, the pageant encourages audience members to slow down and remember what's important.

"It's so easy to be busy, and it makes sense to be busy this time of year. But the show gives men an opportunity to be still and know who God is," said fellow cast member Stephen Dearmond.

Dearmond said he's been a member of Northside for five years, and participated in the pageant three years.

"When someone comes and sits, they can hear from God," he said.



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