Coming together as one
The holidays are about coming together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The Interracial Christmas Service is one of those events that does just that.
The annual service will take place Sunday, Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Lenoir, located at 309 Church St. Now in its 42nd year, the service brings together Christian people of different races and religious denominations in celebration of Christ’s birth, offering a time of reflection, remembrance and worship.
The Interracial Christmas Service became an annual event in 1970. Local race riots led a group of Christians from black and white churches of several denominations to meet in an attempt to reconcile the situation. That meeting more than 40 years ago led to a number of integrated projects and events, including the annual Christmas program. What started as a bi-racial program now has become a multicultural event as the population of Caldwell County has changed to include various races and nationalities through the years.
Dr. Jane Carswell Roberts, who has been involved with the program since it started, said the event had humble beginnings but has grown through the years. She indicated as many as 500 people have attended the service after a dozen or so showed up the first year it took place.
“(The riot) caused a lot of ill feelings,” Roberts said. “This event was initiated by a group of lay people and still is. It started small but has grown as we have met every year since then.”
This year’s service will feature a number of local ministers who will speak as well as several musical performances (singing and dancing) by groups and individuals. It will take place with the theme of “Emmanuel: God is with Us.”
“Even in difficult times, He is with us,” Roberts said. “That’s the theme of this year’s service.”
The Rev. Byron Grayson, Luis Betancourt and the Rev. Edyth Pruitt will be hosts for the event. Other speakers will be the Rev. Jaime Anderson, the Rev. Charlie Rivers, the Rev. Rob Hinman and the Rev. Venoy Pearson.
Musical performances will be part of the service, and will be handled by the brass ensemble from the Harper School of Music, the Caldwell Men’s Chorus, God’s Promise liturgical dance group, the William Lenoir and Gamewell middle school choruses, Toni Carlton, New Jerusalem Chorus, Flavio Velasquez and Celelo Hernandez, In Touch Choir, Fairview Presbyterian church, Tony Deal, and the congregation will join for several numbers.
The event is one focused on easing racial tensions, something that former Lenoir Councilman George Bernhardt Sr. said should be an undertaking of the church when the service got its start.
The service is a means of getting back to the true meaning of Christmas, “remembering the reason for the season.” Instead of focusing on the secular meaning of Christmas, the Interracial Service concentrates on recognizing the blessings given by God to people of all races and all religious denominations, bringing different people of different backgrounds together as one unified group.
Christmas is celebrated to acknowledge the gift of Jesus’ birth. He came to earth in human form to be Lord and savior, to offer hope. That’s exactly what this services tries to provide for all as they come together as a united people.
“It’s just a time to get together and celebrate as a unified body,” Roberts said. “It’s the one time when all churches can come together and unite as one.”
Refreshments will be served in the Life Center of the church at the conclusion of the service. Anyone who wants may bring snack foods for the fellowship time following the service.