Salisbury churches collaborate for downtown Christmas celebration

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, December 14, 2021

By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post

The inaugural “Christmas on Church Street,” a collaboration of downtown Salisbury churches, takes place Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. 

The event starts at the corner of Bank and Church streets. Visitors can walk at their own pace down to Council and Church streets, where the gathering ends in front of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. People can enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate from Mean Mug, courtesy of the downtown churches. 

Visitors will pass four scenes along Church Street: the Annunciation to Mary, the Shepherd’s Fields, the Wise Men, and the Nativity.

Visitors won’t see a traditional Nativity scene at St. Luke’s, says the Rev. Robert Black.

“We’ll have members reading poetry and texts of Christmas hymns. We want people to engage with the Christmas story and think about the depth of it,” he said.

The hope is that “Christmas on Church Street” will become an annual event, says The Rev. Dr. Rhodes Woolly, senior pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church. 

In addition, a choir will carol in Bell Tower Green. That effort is being coordinated by Deacon Rob Durocher, St. John’s minister of music and the arts. 

The group will sing a half-hour program of carols, then repeat twice more throughout the evening. 

Others involved with this musical effort include Joshua Starnes, music director at First United Methodist Church; Philip Burgess, choir director at First United Church of Christ; Susan Trivette, organist at First UCC; John Stafford, music director of First Presbyterian Church; Steven Aycock, St. Luke’s interim choirmaster and organist; Taylor Hutchins, St. John’s productions manager; and Ricky Howsare, St. John’s contemporary worship leader. 

“We are excited for the opportunity to work together to bring something musical to the community,” Durocher says. “We are all looking forward to it.”

The idea for “Christmas on Church Street” actually developed last year, Woolly notes, in the midst of the pandemic. 

“We couldn’t have worship inside on Christmas Eve, so we had to figure out how to tell the story in an outdoor setting,” Woolly says. 

But the event ultimately was called off because of spike in the pandemic.

“We need community events that will garner a great deal of energy and enthusiasm,” Woolly says. “The park is really just fantastic, and it’s a natural gathering place. We have lived through two years of canceling things. We’re eager to return to the basic stories that make us who we are.”

Pastor Lara Musser Gritter of First Presbyterian agrees.

“This is a chance to be out in the community and experience the great sense of partnership among the downtown churches,” she says. It’s an opportunity, she says, not to compare but to celebrate them. 

Musser Gritter adds, “This is not just for church members but for everyone in the community when our world needs it so much.”

Musser Gritter and her husband, the Rev. Josh Musser Gritter, plan to be in attendance with Joanna, their 8-month-old daughter. The First Presbyterian campus is located across Jackson Street from the park. 

“It’s cool to see the way the park has drawn people together, including all these new Christmas traditions,” Laura Musser Gritter notes. 

In charge of logistics are Shari Graham and Hen Henderlite, fresh off the recent success of the ’Tis the Season parade on Thanksgiving Eve and the inaugural Holiday Spectacular at Bell Tower Green that followed. 

“It was over-the-top successful,” Graham says the park event. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. Everybody was singing and then we had the countdown to the tree lighting. It was like something out of a Hallmark movie.”

 Groups may start their walk down Church Street at 6 p.m. The last group will go through at 7:45 p.m.

Susan Shinn Turner is staff writer at St. John’s Lutheran Church.