A Christmas Pageant Casting Call?

During the year before I came to Chicago Presbytery, I was serving a small church as interim pastor and lived full time in Peoria. I have always loved theater of all kinds and, in fact, my undergraduate degree is a performance degree in Speech Communications from Illinois. There were only about 100 of us in that major while I was there and most of the other people were heading toward television. In any case, during 2017 I had enough free evenings to be able to try out for a show and was cast with a very small part in the chorus. It was fun to see the show from the backstage end of it and to help out with all of the kids who were in it.

I also discovered that the community theater groups in Peoria all operate on Facebook. That is how you find out that you made the show; how you are informed about the rehearsal schedule and on and on. Now that I do not have time to be in a show, I still keep in touch with the two theater groups on Facebook since that is also where they ask for volunteers. I saw a few shows for free this summer under the tent in Bradley Park where summer productions are done by volunteering to be an usher.

Because of the Facebook connections, I also see some of the announcements for the very active children’s community theater groups in Peoria. I have noticed that one of the ways both the indoor and outdoor theaters help to fill their seats is by choosing shows that have lots of kids in them. If all of their family members pay for tickets (and some of them, of course, come almost every night) it helps to keep the theater afloat. Many of these kids take acting and singing and dancing classes all year round. They are always on the lookout for places to audition to show off their budding talents.

I know that this time of year is crunch time for those involved with children’s ministry in churches. I was a youth pastor in one of my calls and was involved in youth ministry in almost every church I served. I have directed children’s pageants where no one really learned their lines and our Sunday morning pageant looked more like a bad rehearsal. I have had the lead (who knew all of his lines) walk up to me about 30 minutes before the pageant was to begin and tell me that he thought he was going to throw up. (I told him to go find his mother. Someone read from a script to fill in for him.) I have had kids get microphone cords so twisted around someone else’s legs that we had to stop for a minute to right the ship.

The best one may have been the program with about 100 children and teen-agers all standing at the front of the sanctuary while someone was videotaping. (This was a long time ago so it really was taped.) You could see that something happened that made children and teens alike react by stepping back and then giggling uncontrollably. It was really funny to watch on the video. Apparently one of the little ones had (ahem) had a few too many beans for dinner, if you know what I mean, and the result set off a mini-riot in the program we had been rehearsing for weeks.

With the way that even active church members attend worship only about once a month now, I cannot imagine trying to put on one of these extravaganzas. How can you rehearse during Sunday School if kids are only there occasionally? How can you choose the day for the pageant? And, for those churches with a handful of children or no children, do you have to abandon the tradition altogether?

I wonder. . . what if you advertised in the community theater groups near your church that there will be auditions for kids for this production, that rehearsals will be held at set times, and that the production will be held on a particular date? I wonder if children from your community who like to perform might be part of your pageant as a part of their performance life for the year.

Does that seem like sacrilege to you? Think about it. What is the purpose of the Christmas pageant? Is it to provide a place to show off Christmas dresses and ties; a time to do what we have always done; one more thing to add stress to the lives of the families in your congregation and your paid and volunteer staff? Or is the purpose to help those involved to understand the great gift we receive at Christmas in a new way? Is a part of the purpose to introduce this story to those who have never heard anything about Christmas except that it is a time to ask for something?

For our congregations to survive and thrive, we need to be creative in the ways we reach beyond our current members and friends. Does that mean inviting strangers to be part of the Christmas pageant? That is for you to decide. But it might be an interesting conversation to have. Why have Christmas pageants been important in the past? What is their true purpose? How do they remind us of our purpose as a church: to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ every hour of every day?
Rev. Sue Krummel, Executive Prebyter
Presbytery of Chicago