LAKESIDE PARK- Those familiar with church around Christmas-time are accustomed to the familiar image: a rickety nativity surrounded by animals and admirers, a couple in awe of their miraculous baby, and a tiny infant crying in the heart of it all. However, this year, Immanuel United Methodist Church chose not to rehash the iconic story with a group of costumed worshippers. The establishment’s alternative weapon of choice? Joseph Martin’s The Winter Rose– a floral take on the origins of Jesus Christ.
According to JW Pepper’s website, The Winter Rose is a contemporary cantata that “incorporates both traditional carols and newly composed anthems that visit the timeless Christmas story with fresh insight.” Immanuel’s rendition of the not-so-classic composition did the very same, combining a deep-voiced narration of the nativity story, carols like “Hark the Harold Angels Sing”, and intermittent solo performances by members of the choir. Oh, and some Disney-esque performances by the church’s very own orchestra, which, according to choir member Lindsy Barrix, has never been able to perform due to size and time restrictions.
“We’re very excited to finally have the space for an orchestra,” she says, smiling. “Having enough people and the time to rehearse to incorporate them was just such a blessing.”
While Martin’s award-winning piece has already embedded itself into the yearly routines of several churches in the U.S., members of Immanuel confirm that this is their first year embracing the symbolic synthesis of musical talents. In the past, Christmas Cantatas here have reportedly been much smaller. Last year, a bell choir performed classic carols. So, why the change?
“Our church does one of these every year, but this one was BIG,” says Laura Townsend, a member of the congregation. “I think we are in a good place financially, and could finally do something this impactful.”
As a 2008 article from TIME Magazine points out, many people are opting to drop church from their list of Christmas traditions, too used to the customary “nativity plays that recreate the birth of Jesus with a cast of 10-year-olds in bathrobes.” However, Immanuel United Methodist appears to be trying to maintain audience interest by switching things up every so often- both content and size-wise -all the while maintaining what it feels is the true message of Christmas: the birth and life of Jesus Christ.
The result of this endeavor? Difficult to pinpoint, but judging from the hundreds of individuals packed like friendly sardines into the pews on Sunday afternoon, the church appears to be succeeding. Choir member Cindy Juniper finds time to weigh in just after the Cantata, reminding audiences that the “reason for the season” is what is at stake here- not the entertainment of the audience (though this happens to be a much-welcomed side-effect).
“Everyone here is so friendly, and I haven’t been able to attend in a while,” she gushes, looking to Heaven for help with her response. “But honestly, the music isn’t music until our hearts and God’s love are in it. That’s what’s important.”
Though last-minute gift grabs and holiday parties become routine around this time of year- sometimes drowning out the familiar noise of the church congregation -Immanuel United Methodist appears determined to keep an old story fresh- and new faces coming.
 Refers to “a musical composition intended to be sung”, but can also incorporate instrumental bits. -Encyclopedia Britannica