The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Beyond The Picket Fence

by Sherryanne De La Boise


Let me start by giving a plug to the Facebook Christmas Eve Pageant (and the Sunday after Facebook Christmas Cantata) both being produced by my son, James-Grant Robertson, for St. Luke's Christian Community Church in Morton Grove, Illinois. Please find and watch them, both.

This will not be the big, polished affair of the mega churches, as the congregation has less than 25 members, with only four under the age of 75. I refer to this church and its Council as "the spawn of Satan." Only one Council member participated in the pageant and none in the Cantata. In fact, the Council only wants him to sing at their unadvised in-person services

(The sanctuary has never been sanitized by them, nor do they take temperatures or record who is in attendance). They have rejected two potential new members (because they are "strangers," even sending back the monies they had placed in the collection plate).

They have rejected every aspect of Grant's helping them with Discipleship, outreach, and even rejected the edicts of the national United Church of Christ, of which they are members.

This congregation is neither affirming, nor welcoming. They demanded Grant use a black and white UCC logo (rather than the UCC logo with the rainbow of colors) when he built their new website (The Council President claims to have lost the password to the old one, so only she can update it).

In fact, they took their evilness one step further when they refused to turn on the heat for the "not white congregation" that rents the sanctuary for Saturday morning prayer services. These renters are faithful followers of Christ. Grant has sung for them. He speaks of the intensity of their prayers for others. And yet, the Council member in charge of the Building is permitted to denigrate this Korean congregation without excoriation from the UCC.

They see the church as their own personal Sunday club. While working with them, Grant had the sanctuary insulated, got them a new 8-speaker organ from another church in Michigan and installed it.

He understands that to survive, a small church must turn itself inside out. The lights must burn from the inside, showing the stained glass and having music to be heard by anyone who happens to pass by. The church must show that it is alive for anyone to want to come.

In the process of getting them a new organ (theirs's had been broken for 12 years), he found live wires hanging behind the alter and got those removed.

He bought better bulbs for the sanctuary and one of the Council members took the case of bulbs home!

The council is refusing to remit to him the monies spent for the new wire and refusing to pay the moving men who helped him do the labor, saying that, "We are all Christians and Christians donate their labor."

"You are only hired to sing." Yet, every week since the pandemic began, Grant has been helping their pastor to produce an online worship service. At first, only holding up a cell phone, while the Pastor led the prayers, gave the sermon, and played the piano while Grant sang, doing a Facebook live service.

By the following week, Grant had downloaded free gaming software. He borrowed three I-pads, setting them up on music stands, to get better sound and more interesting angles of recording. By the next week, he had recruited John McDonald (IT professor College of DuPage) to help and to teach him about recording. In the process of taping the service, Grant's computer burned up. It was fried. He used his own money to purchase a stronger one. He found a big screen tv and hooked it up to the computer to make a teleprompter, so the Pastor did not have to be reading everything off of bits of paper. The pastor could look up and talk to the congregation.

Grant edits in the prayers and the lyrics, so watchers can pray and sing along. He added interesting images.

This is all being done by a guy who does not have a background in online productions or musical theater. And, the Council is refusing to pay him more than $100 per week for all of this, including the extra services for Holy Easter Week and Advent.

Sadly, only one Council member and two congregation members watch. The others stubbornly say that they "don't like church on the computer." And refuse to watch even one worship service. Yet, when pressed, they admit to watching Joel Osteen on the television.

The crazy thing is that the Facebook service has 80 people who watch the entire service every week. Grant's service is reaching an average of 250 people per week (not everyone watches the entire thing). And, on several occasions have had up to 640 people watching.

Even the pastor's UCC advisor cannot praise the tiny church enough for not going dark, for putting up a service that keeps improving.

The week that Grant added the drone footage is probably my favorite. He had the thing descend from the steeple cross and come into the front door, as he sang, "Here I am to worship." Gives me chills, as it was one of the strongest calls to worship I have experienced, ever.

Mother likes the September 20 service, which starts with, "His Eye is on the Sparrow."

So, why am I suggesting you tune in?

Because in spite of the horrible people in this church, the pageant is homey and good. When you watch it, the baby's arms and legs are flailing just like that tiny baby Jesus would have done.

Mary is squirming, uncomfortable at being the center of so much attention, especially when her mother-in-law appears to take a cell phone picture (I hope that does not get edited out). The little shepherd is jumping all over the place, wanting to defend his sheep by whacking the angel Gabriel out of the sky. And, being 2020, everyone is masked.

Grant produced this pageant by filming each person, individually, in front of a giant green sheet, just like the weathermen do on tv, not only keeping social distances, but sanitizing the sanctuary between tapings.

He borrowed costumes from the Presbyterians.

He inverted a piano bench, added a few boards and some burlap to make a manger. He called some friends to play the roles in the pageant and bribed his grandmother to be one of the readers. All because the church members think that the pandemic is a government fraud.

Anyhow, using gaming software, Grant has layered backgrounds (the sheep are bleating) and multiple people ("then there was a multitude of the heavenly host" required at least three angels) into the scenes. Added the words, so you should sing along and be a part of the pageant.

The result is spirited and not perfect and everything that a 2020 Christmas pageant should be. Your watching and making comments will help my son to decide if it is worth the time and energy to continue in 2021 (albeit with a different church).

Don't worry if you are not available to see the pageant at 5pm on Christmas Eve (or the Cantata the following Sunday), it will be available on Facebook Christmas Day and in the days afterwards.

Enjoy! Be of Good Cheer. And, remember that Jesus is the Reason for the Season!