The COVID-19 pandemic forced area houses of worship to modify or curtail Christmas programs for the community last year. But now that residents are more comfortable with attending events, local churches are planning plenty of ways to celebrate the season.
Between now and the end of the year, more than 30 Christmas shows and events are scheduled at churches within a 15-mile radius of The Villages. This includes "Come to the Light," which returns for a second year at Live Oaks Community Church's Woodridge Campus in Oxford.
"Last year's shows went so well that we decided to bring it back again for the community this season," Lead Pastor Chris Holck said. "It is the perfect way to get in the Christmas spirit and be reminded of the true reason for the season."
"Come to the Light" is a 40-minute presentation at the Woodridge Campus' outdoor venue, The Grove. The show includes the Nativity story narrated by singer Steve Green and Christmas songs synchronized to a light show.
Those who attended the show last year can expect a few changes if they attend again this year.
"We have a few more lighting effects set up to make the event a bit more dramatic," Holck said. "We've also added a large manger that is a part of the show that illustrates that a miracle happened in a manger. We also have some different songs that will be synchronized to the lights."
Shows run at 6 and 7:30 p.m. nightly through Dec. 23. A free parking pass is required for each vehicle that parks at The Grove, and can be obtained by visiting liveoakschurch.org.
"We also want to remind the community that not every person needs a pass, as the parking passes refer to the car or golf cart," Holck said. "We've already recorded some 1,600 reservations for this year's shows at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and we're hearing from people as far away as Ocala and Mount Dora who want to attend. We're also hearing of neighborhood group caravans from across The Villages that plan to check out the show."
New Covenant United Methodist Church is planning a series of shows and activities this month to mark the holidays. The church started the festivities this past Thursday and Friday with "A Quiet Christmas," a benefit concert for House of Hope's building fund. New Covenant UMC also will present "A Christmas Festival" with the Central Florida Brass Band this Thursday and a concert called "The Spirit of Christmas" on Dec. 18-19.
And the church will host its December Family Event on Dec. 17.
"The December Family Event will feature a story from Santa, cookie decorating, crafts and other holiday activities," said Brad Collins, digital and communications director for New Covenant UMC. "The event is free, but we are asking each family member to bring a new, unwrapped toy for kids in need."
Participants also are asked to register ahead of time at ncumcfl.com.
First Baptist Church of Lady Lake will bring back its drive-through Nativity on Dec. 11, 17 and 18, and will host Christmas concerts Dec. 18-19. And the Congregational Church in Summerfield will offer a pair of concerts featuring performers popular in the community.
"We'll have Eirinn Abu dropping by for a show on Dec. 10, followed by Christmas with Kevin O'Connell and Friends on Dec. 15," said the Rev. Jim Keough, of the Congregational Church. "Both shows are at 6 p.m., and tickets can be purchased at the church office and after Sunday worship."
The Villages Pops Chorus will be at North Lake Presbyterian Church in Lady Lake at 3 and 6 p.m. Monday for its holiday show, "We Need a Little Christmas." A portion of the proceeds will benefit local charities. And Family Community Church in Lady Lake plans to bring back its popular Living Nativity presentation Dec. 10-11.
"The community came out in droves for last year's Living Nativity, and we appreciated the support," said Pastor Aaron Baum, of Family Community. "This year's Living Nativity will be a walk-through event rather than a drive-through, complete with new scenes. People will be able to sit and experience each section at their own pace."
A few churches plan to continue balancing fun and fellowship with safety this month. Trinity Lutheran Church in Summerfield presented a broadcast of a Christmas concert starring award-winning singer Amy Grant after worship Saturday. And St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Wildwood will host a virtual concert featuring the Amazing Grace Notes at 4 p.m. Thursday at sumtercatholic.org.
Two members of the Amazing Grace Notes, Becky Pishko and Dawn DiNome, lead St. Vincent de Paul's music ministry, while the group's third member, Jillian O'Neill, serves as church cantor.
"It's been tough, particularly the fact that we cannot perform in front of a live audience," Pishko noted. "But I think we've found a way to entertain our fans while staying safe."
Senior Writer James Dinan can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5302, or firstname.lastname@example.org.