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A place for the spirit, a place for community, a place for the arts, a place to begin your life's journey, a place where all of God's children are welcome, a place for you.

Monthly Newsletter

December 2014

4th Annual Handel's Messiah Sing-Along Concert

Hallelujah! Bask in Handel's inspiring Messiah, surrounded by candlelight and Calvary's magnificent Tiffany stained-glass masterpieces on Saturday, December 6th, at 4:00pm. Doors open at 3:15pm when volunteers welcome audience members to view the windows and select their seats for the one-hour concert.

Messiah tickets are on sale following Sunday morning worship and also online at Advance purchase is encouraged due to the large audiences we have welcomed in past years. It's now the fourth presentation of the Baroque oratorio in the sanctuary – a new tradition in Pittsburgh during which the audience is invited to sing along with our Festival Choir of 55 voices. The Festival Choir is comprised of many members of Calvary's Renewal Choir and also numerous others who are our guests for this event.

Renewal has indeed been a theme as the choir presented its first major chorale work since the 1960’s with a 2011 concert of favorite selections from the masterwork celebrating the prophecy and arrival of Christ on earth. Calvary's three previous presentations of Messiah drew near-capacity attendance. 

Calvary's Music Director Brian Burns conducts the event which includes a chamber orchestra comprised of some of the area's most accomplished instrumentalists.

"We are thrilled to offer our 4th Annual Handel’s Messiah Sing-Along Concert," Brian says. "The timeless qualities of the piece are only enhanced by our spirit of community and the family friendly manner in which it’s presented."

The program is designed to both introduce music lovers of all ages to pieces from the first two parts of the sacred chorale work while invite those who know and love the piece to join in on five of the beloved choruses, including the timeless “Hallelujah!” 

Four popular regional soloists from the 2013 event are featured: Anna Singer, Soprano; Mary Beth Sederburg, Mezzo-Soprano; Christopher Quigley, Tenor; and Matthew Hunt, Baritone.

David Bridge, a past conductor and organist, is at the parlor organ and Calvary's restored Farrand & Votey organ.

Calvary's concert is family-friendly – something for all ages. Children receive a music-themed activity packet, and everyone is invited to a cookie reception, sponsored by Fabled Table, with the artists immediately following the concert. As our church is now fully-accessible, both the Beech Avenue entrance and handicap ramp entrance off Dounton Way are open for Messiah.

And, for the fourth year, audience members are again invited to bring one-pound non-perishable food donations for The Northside Food Pantry, which recently recognized Calvary for our contributions to the shelves of this Northside feeding program. This tradition grew from Poet's Corner's "Reading for Feeding" events for which food donations were simply the admission.

Festival Choir Choruses
And the Glory of the Lord
O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion
For Unto Us a Child is Born
Glory to God
Hallelujah Chorus

Ticket Information
General Admission - $12.00
Seniors (62+) and Students - $8.00
Children 12 and under admitted at no charge.
Military service members and veterans admitted at no charge.
Groups of 10 or more call 412-973-9828. Ten (10) or more tickets - $90.00 ($9 per ticket when purchasing 10 or more tickets).

Purchase tickets online at:

Meet the Director

Brian Burns, Musical Director & Conductor

Brian Burns is a long-time Pittsburgh resident and a native of Armstrong County. There, he began playing the Hammond organ in church at the age of 12. While attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a piano major, he was introduced to the pipe organ and changed his major to organ performance under the direction of the late Dr. Carol Teti. He was one of the first recipients of the Carol Teti Memorial Scholarship. Brian’s undergraduate work was completed with Dr. Christine Clewell in 2001. He served at several churches including St. Bernard’s (Indiana, Pa.) and Ford Memorial United Methodist Church (Ford City, Pa.). Brian worked for three years with local organ builder Harry Ebert before discovering Calvary United Methodist Church. Brian currently directs the Sunday Renewal Choir, the Festival Choir, and plays for all of Calvary’s services. Brian continues to guide the restoration of Calvary’s historic 1894 Farrand & Votey organ.

Meet the Soloists

From left to right: Matthew Hunt, Baritone; Mary Beth Sederburg, Mezzo-Soprano; Anna Singer, Soprano; Christopher Quigley, Tenor

Anna Singer, Soprano

Anna Singer appeared with Palm Beach Opera Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall and as soprano soloist in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 throughout Europe, most recently in Lisbon with the Orquestra Sinfonica Portugesa. Anna made her Carnegie Hall main stage debut with Manhattan Philharmonic. She has sung with New York City Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and the opera companies of Cleveland, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, and Fort Worth, among others. Her many roles with Opera Theater of Pittsburgh include her acclaimed SummerFest performances as Hannah in The Merry Widow and Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music. She has sung leads in such operas as Tosca, Salome, Aida, Susannah, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, La Boheme, Le Nozze di Figaro, Lohengrin, Die Walkure, and Die Fledermaus, among others. 
For Microscopic Opera, she recently performed the role of Madame Lisette in Therese Racquin, among others. Anna made her Carnegie Hall recital debut as a result of her first prize-winning at the Center for Contemporary Opera Vocal Competition. She was awarded First Prize at the Palm Beach Opera Competition, the Dicapo Opera Theatre Vocal Competition, among many others. Heard on air as mid-day host on WQED-FM, Anna is soprano soloist for The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley. A popular soloist and recitalist, she is honored to return for our Messiah for the third consecutive year.

Mary Beth Sederburg, Mezzo-Soprano

A former apprentice with the Pittsburgh Opera, Mezzo-Soprano Mary Beth Sederburg is also a graduate of the Master’s in Opera Theater Program at Carnegie Mellon University. Mary Beth was a vocal student of the late Mimi Lerner and currently studies with Milutin Lazich. Ms. Sederburg has performed with Pittsburgh Opera, The American Singers Opera Project, Erie Opera Theater, The Opera Theater of Lucca, Carnegie Mellon Opera Theater, Opera North, Undercroft Opera, the Pittsburgh Savoyards and the Microscopic Opera Company, among others. Favorite roles include the title roles in Carmen and The Medium, Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and Eboli in Don Carlo. Ms. Sederburg can be heard on the Naxos label in the world premiere recording of Hangman, Hangman/The Town of Greed.
An eclectic 2013-14 season included Amneris in Aida with Undercroft Opera, Lupe Marin in Frida with Microscopic Opera, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty with Comtra Theatre, Steampunk Girl in Speed Dating Tonight with the Microscopic Opera Company, Lady Sophy in Utopia Limited with the Pittsburgh Savoyards and Adalgisa in Norma with Undercroft Opera. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of Undercroft Opera, a company in Pittsburgh that primarily features local artists in traditional operatic productions. With Undercroft Opera she has produced over 20 fully staged operas, including Cosi Fan Tutte, The Tales of Hoffmann, La Traviata, Susannah, The Barber of Seville, and many more. The company’s next production will be Die Fledermaus in January 2015. This spring, Ms. Sederburg will create the role of Maple in For the Time Being, a world premiere chamber opera by Daniel Arnaldos of CMU. She also maintains a full and active voice studio and enjoys teaching.

Christopher Quigley, Tenor

Christopher Quigley has performed with the Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Ohio Light Opera, Village Light Opera, and York Symphony. He is a veteran actor/director and his roles in 2013 included as Roger in The Producers and the title role of Willy Wonka at York Little Theatre. He appeared as Corny Collins in Hairspray with the Act of Kindness Theatre Co. in 2012. Other roles include Harold Hill in The Music Man, Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, as well as his participation in the 1990 National Tour of Oklahoma starring John Davidson. Most recently, Chris directed as successful production of Gypsy, and his most recent roles include Vince Fontaine in Grease this past summer at YLT. A resident of York, Pa., Christopher is a deputy prothonotary employed by the County of York.
He attended Carnegie Mellon University, and was a voice student of the late Dr. Lee Cass. He returns as a Messiah soloist having sung in each of our three prior concerts. Chris is thankful for his family and friends for their unfailing love and constant support.

Matthew Hunt, Baritone

Matthew Hunt has performed with vocal ensembles in the United States, England, and Italy, with a focus on oratorio works. In addition to performing as a soloist in Handel’s Messiah, Matthew’s oratorio credits include Lucifero in Alessandro Stradella’s Esule dalle Sfere, Pilatus in Bach's St. John Passion, and Lucifero in Handel's La Resurrezione. He is a member of the professional core of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, and has performed with them as a soloist in Giacomo Carissimi's Jephte and Beethoven's Mass in C. Matthew currently studies with Daniel Teadt.
Victorian House Tour
Cookie Donations & Volunteers Needed

Cookie donations are needed for the Victorian House Tour so that we may sell them in the "Calvary Cafe" that will be set up in the Chapel during the house tour. Also, volunteers are needed to assist with food preparation in the kitchen and also with selling food and beverages in the "Calvary Cafe". The house tour is being held on the evening of Friday, December 12th and all day Saturday, December 13th. Please see Brian Burns if you are able to make cookies, and please see Karen Ferguson if you are able to volunteer your time that weekend.
Annual Children's Christmas Party

Children of all ages are invited to a Christmas Party at Calvary on Sunday, December 21st following morning worship. Pizza will be provided for lunch, and the children will enjoy Christmas crafts and games. Please RSVP so that we know how many children to expect.
Holiday Mission Project

Life can be difficult for families in times of crisis. HEARTH provides safe, affordable housing for single mothers and their families. Each year the Calvary church family adopts a family at HEARTH, and provides a Christmas surprise for them. We are collecting funds to purchase gifts for a mother with three children, ages 6, 8, and 9. Your support can be given through your offering – marked for HEARTH – or given to Lynn Sevick or Myles and Joan Bradley.

To learn more about HEARTH, please visit their website:

HEARTH's Mission
To provide a range of supportive services and housing that empowers families to become independent, self-sufficient, and adequately housed; and to foster low income housing opportunities to prevent homelessness and encourage safe, affordable housing.
Angel Tree

Every child has a story. For 2.7 million American children, that story is filled with the abandonment, loneliness, and shame that come from having a mom or dad in prison. For many, it may also include following their parents down the same destructive road to incarceration.

Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship, reaches out to the children of inmates and their families with the love of Christ. This unique program gives your church an opportunity to share Christ’s love by helping to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the families of prisoners.

Angel Tree re-connects hurting families and shares the Good News of Jesus Christ—the ultimate Christmas gift—with inmates’ children who live right in your area. Your simple act of love will give joy to families who might otherwise have little to celebrate, and our church will live out the true meaning of Christmas.

To learn more about Prison Fellowship, please visit their website:

Prison Fellowship Mission
We believe that no life is beyond the reach of God’s power, and we envision a future in which countless prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, are redeemed, restored, and reconciled through the love and truth of Jesus Christ. We equip local churches and thousands of trained volunteers to spread the Gospel and nurture disciples behind prison walls, so that men and women become new creations in Christ – not repeat offenders. We prepare Christian inmates to become leaders of their families, communities, and churches once they are released back into the community. We support inmates’ families, helping them become reconciled to God and one another through transformative relationships with local churches.
Used T-Shirts Needed at Martin Luther King School

Our neighbors at Martin Luther King School have asked us to collect used t-shirts that can be used when students come wearing inappropriate clothing. Having a supply of t-shirts will mean that the students will not be sent home, but will be able to continue with their classes.
Family Fall Festival

The Children & Youth Committee held a Family Fall Festival on Friday, November 14th. What a night!! Over 40 people attended the festival which was a great success. We had games, crafts, a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, a scarecrow, scary stories in the dark, and pumpkin pie!! Jane Johnson won the "Guess How Many" game by being only 5 away. Our very awesome scarecrow was played by Mark. He had those kids in the palm of his scarecrow hands while telling scary stories in the dark. Crafts were led by the fabulous and talented Moira and Christina. And Doug prepared a turkey dinner that would have given Julia Child a run for her money! Thank you to everyone that made the evening a complete success and ALOT of fun!
Bake Sale for Calvary Children & Youth Christmas Party

Calvary’s Children & Youth Committee will be sponsoring two bake sales after our morning worship service on Sunday, November 16th and Sunday, December 7th. Hopefully, this will be a winning recipe to raise cash for our Christmas Party and for you to bring home a dessert for dinner or a snack for school lunches. 
The bake sale that was held on Sunday, November 16th was quite the success, and the Children and Youth Committee thanks you so much for your support. We are definitely on our way to being able to fund a very festive and memorable Christmas Party.

To have continued success in this effort, we need to recruit the Calvary congregation for bakers to donate their favorite bake good(s) which are not readily perishable. Suggested bake sale items are cookies, bar cookies, brownies, breads, muffins, rolls, cakes, fruit pies (please no cream-filled or custard-type pies), candies, fudge, sweet and salty snacks, jar mixes, store bought bake goods, etc. If you need a recipe idea, listed below are some websites.

If you have any questions, please contact Susan Laczko by email at or by calling 412.655.1320.
Please help us in making a memorable Christmas Party for Calvary’s children and youth!

Light of Life Thanksgiving Dinner Baskets

During the month of November, members of Calvary collected over 300 cans of cranberry sauce that were delivered to Light of Life Ministries the week of Thanksgiving. Volunteers then prepared Thanksgiving Dinner baskets for North Side families that have fallen on hard times. Over 420 Thanksgiving baskets were made by volunteers, which included members of Calvary, on Monday, November 24th. Every family that received a Thanksgiving basket also received a Bible and a list of community organizations and resources that can help them.
The Thanksgiving Basket Project was featured on WPXI. Watch the video by clicking on this link:

Here is a list of all the organizations that were provided Thanksgiving Dinner baskets: Urban Impact Foundation, The Pittsburgh Project, House of Manna, Circle of Hope MInistries, City View Church, Greater Allen AME Church, Lost but Not Forgotten, St. Peter's Parish, Hosanna, Christian Fellowship Center, New Hope Church, The Forge, Allegheny Center Alliance Church's Aftercare Jail and Prison Ministry Support Group, and New Dawn Beginnings.

Light of Life Rescue Mission
Light of Life Rescue Mission, founded on 1952, provides a home for the homeless, food for the hungry and hope for the hopeless in Pittsburgh, PA. A nonprofit, Christian organization, Light of Life Rescue Mission employs a skilled, caring team who teach, counsel and mentor people in need. Light of Life empowers men, women and children to achieve lifelong self-sufficiency, healthy, spirit-filled living and ongoing growth both personally and professionally. Light of Life collaborates with many area agencies to help those it serves to receive the most appropriate and highest quality care available. More than 1,000 individuals seeking hope for a better life pass through the Mission's doors each year. Light of Life is supported primarily by individual donors and is bountifully blessed by the services of numerous volunteers and other partners. For more information, visit their website at
Unloading 400+ frozen turkeys from the truck for the baskets.
Light of Life Volunteer Coordinator, Bri Feindt, giving direction to all of the Volunteers.
This is the chapel at the mission. Every morning and evening, homeless men and women come to chapel to hear the Word of God preached. Light of Life also has chapel everyday for people that participate in their recovery programs.

News & Announcements

Ugly Quilt Project (Sleeping Bags) - A Message from the Missions Committee
The sleeping bag project will continue sometime this Winter, and will meet at Calvary instead of New Hope UMC. We haven't decided when we will be meeting; we will let you know!

Hospitality Opportunity - Greeters & Ushers
A Message from Kenny Elliott

Being an usher is one of the most important ministries at Calvary. You are the first friendly face that greets visitors and members Sunday mornings. If you are an usher or interested in becoming an usher, please let me know your schedule for the rest of the year (724.747.7467). If you have work or travel schedules that keep you away on many Sundays or don't know your schedule until a week or two ahead of time, you can still usher. I will be glad to fit you in as your schedule permits or call on you if we need a substitute. And, if we have a number of ushers willing to serve, you may not have to serve more than once every month or two months. I am hoping to put together a schedule with alternating usher teams, and I’ll send that out for each quarter. Contact Kenny Elliott at 724-747-7467 or to sign up.

Visitor Welcome Table
If you would like to help out at a welcome table, call Kenny Elliott at 724.747.7467.

Feed the Sheep
Sponsors are needed for the months of December and January. If you would like to host a fellowship luncheon please see Doug Lucas, Clayton Harris, or Mike Schnitgen. Two sponsors are needed per Sunday, $35.00 per sponsor.

Steeler Sundays 
On Steeler afternoon game day Sundays, Calvary provides valet parking and directions to the lot at Brother's Brother Foundation on the 1200 block of Galveston Avenue. Look for the volunteer on Allegheny in front of Calvary for instructions.

The Daily Bread
Calvary Sponsors The Daily Bread at New Hope every 2nd Thursday of each and every month. If you are interested in helping physically or financially please let us know. It can be a group project or an individual donation of time; we are always looking for help. If you are interested in helping please call Audrey Jennings at 412.335.3559 or email her at

Calvary UMC Newsletter
The Calvary UMC Newsletter is distributed twice a month. The first, more detailed, newsletter is sent out at the beginning of each month. The second newsletter will contain only important Church News, the Church Calendar, and Prayer Requests. This second, abridged newsletter is sent out around the middle of each month. Print copies of the monthly newsletters are also available in the Chapel on the table near Rev. Larry’s office. If you have something that you would like to be highlighted or printed in an upcoming newsletter please see Karen Ferguson or email her at

Small Groups


Holy Book Club
Sunday Mornings at 9:30am
Location: Calvary UMC Parlor
This Fall, two of the included books will be (1) "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow, and (2) "The Seed" by Jon Gordon.

Worship Team - Praise Band
Sunday Mornings at 9:30am
Location: Calvary UMC Sanctuary
The Praise Band presents two songs to open each worship service. All songs are chosen to encourage congregational singing and participation. Some tunes are based on well-known hymns with a contemporary twist, while others are original tunes by contemporary Christian artists. See Brian Burns or Karen Ferguson for more details or if you are interested in joining the Worship Team.

Prayer Circle
Sunday Mornings from 10:15-10:45am
Location: Church Union Office (Next to Rev. Larry's Office)
See Ellie Laws for more details.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Sunday Nights from 6:00-8:00pm
Location: Calvary UMC Fellowship Hall


Gamblers Anonymous
Every 2nd Monday of the Month from 7:00-9:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Fellowship Hall


Renewal Choir
Tuesday Nights from 6:15-7:15pm

Location: Calvary UMC Sanctuary
The Renewal Choir sings traditional anthems on Sunday mornings as well as supporting Calvary special events and observances. The group presents a wide variety of musical styles from September through May. Choir members actively participate in worship and may be found assisting during such times as Communion, Advent and special services. See Brian Burns for more details or if you are interested in joining.


Women's Bible Study
Wednesday Mornings at 10:00am

Location: Calvary UMC Parlor
Calvary Women Come Together! Please join us as we share the stories of twelve special women as we study "Extraordinary Women of the Bible".

Adult Bible Study
Wednesday Nights at 6:15pm

Location: Calvary UMC Parlor
Over the 4 week period from October 22nd thru November 12th, Denny Hunt will be with us to share his extensive knowledge of dreams and their meanings. Several members of the group go out for a light meal afterwards.

Iron City Square Dancing
Wednesday Nights from 7:00-9:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Fellowship Hall


Women's Bible Study
Thursday Evenings at 7:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Parlor
Calvary Women Come Together! Please join us as we share the stories of twelve special women as we study "Extraordinary Women of the Bible".

Narcotics Anonymous
Thursday Nights from 7:00-9:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Fellowship Hall

Prayer Requests

Prayers for This Week
  • Mildred Blackburn and her family in the loss of her daughter, Joyce Baskin, on Thanksgiving Day
  • Joan Sturtz's granddaughter, Emma
  • Choir and Concert Handel's “Messiah” and the Christmas House Tour 

Continued Prayers
  • Nancy Davey recovery from surgery
  • Christine Thomas and family for health concerns, and her Daughter Nan and her niece Lynn who were in a car accident
  • Moira Brennen’s Family in the loss of her mother, Linda Ernst, and continued prayers for her father, Bruce Ernst
  • Shirley Mehring's sister Barbara continues to improve after brain surgery
  • Adam Balogh, age 27yrs - Leukemia and Lymphoma
  • Word of thanks from the Clark Family - Renny’s nephew, Greg, is recovering at home
  • Linda’s sister Patty - cancer
  • Robert Brown Baldwin, Rehab Room 112
  • Melvin Branch - not doing well, health
  • Prayers for Ida’s daughter - cancer
  • Marci Deutsch - rehab, and recovery for Delores Skena
  • Michael Snell - problems with his kidneys, heart, prostate
  • Prayers for Ralph Gravante
  • Prayers for Dennis Joseph Huber
  • Jim Cox - health concerns and cancer
  • Dwayne Rife - internal bleeding
  • Jason, Beth Ann, and others suffering from some form of addictions
  • Truddie Burke who is in Manor Care in Oakland
  • Ron - discerning health concerns
  • Julie - health concerns, Ron - health concerns
  • Richie Family - health and heart
  • Janet - back pain and surgery
  • Patty Brown - health and COPD concerns
  • Zeek Thomas's brother, Charlie - COPD health
  • Kenny Branch - health and heart
  • Family and Friends of Calvary UMC
  • Remember Light of Life in your prayers
  • Protection of Firefighters and Police Officers
  • Shooting violence and the families that have lost loved ones
  • Prayers for all of Calvary UMC leaders and our mission and ministry
  • Prayers for Missionaries Steve and Gail Quigg - aviation mission to Africa
  • Tina Whitehead - missionary in Jerusalem

Prayers for the World Community
  • World Leaders/President/Congress
  • Places of conflict around the world
  • Families of those in service to our country
  • Homeless, hungry, and those in need of jobs

Let us know how we can pray for you. Please contact Rev. Ellie Laws by emailing the Calvary UMC church office at or by calling 412.231.2007.

Historical Tidbits

Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?

The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.

The evergreen tree was an ancient symbol of life in the midst of winter. Romans decorated their houses with evergreen branches during the New Year, and ancient inhabitants of northern Europe cut evergreen trees and planted them in boxes inside their houses in wintertime. Many early Christians were hostile to such practices. The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honor of the emperor:

"Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple."

But by the early Middle Ages, the legend had grown that when Christ was born in the dead of winter, every tree throughout the world miraculously shook off its ice and snow and produced new shoots of green. At the same time, Christian missionaries preaching to Germanic and Slavic peoples were taking a more lenient approach to cultural practices—such as evergreen trees. These missionaries believed that the Incarnation proclaimed Christ's lordship over those natural symbols that had previously been used for the worship of pagan gods. Not only individual human beings, but cultures, symbols, and traditions could be converted.

Of course, this did not mean that the worship of pagan gods themselves was tolerated. According to one legend, the eighth-century missionary Boniface, after cutting down an oak tree sacred to the pagan god Thor (and used for human sacrifice), pointed to a nearby fir tree instead as a symbol of the love and mercy of God.

Paradise Trees

Not until the Renaissance are there clear records of trees being used as a symbol of Christmas—beginning in Latvia in 1510 and Strasbourg in 1521. Legend credits the Protestant reformer Martin Luther with inventing the Christmas tree, but the story has little historical basis.

The most likely theory is that Christmas trees started with medieval plays. Dramas depicting biblical themes began as part of the church's worship, but by the late Middle Ages, they had become rowdy, imaginative performances dominated by laypeople and taking place in the open air. The plays celebrating the Nativity were linked to the story of creation—in part because Christmas Eve was also considered the feast day of Adam and Eve. Thus, as part of the play for that day, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a "paradise tree" hung with fruit.

These plays were banned in many places in the 16th century, and people perhaps began to set up "paradise trees" in their homes to compensate for the public celebration they could no longer enjoy. The earliest Christmas trees (or evergreen branches) used in homes were referred to as "paradises." They were often hung with round pastry wafers symbolizing the Eucharist, which developed into the cookie ornaments decorating German Christmas trees today.

The custom gained popularity throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, against the protests of some clergy. Lutheran minister Johann von Dannhauer, for instance, complained (like Tertullian) that the symbol distracted people from the true evergreen tree, Jesus Christ. But this did not stop many churches from setting up Christmas trees inside the sanctuary. Alongside the tree often stood wooden "pyramids"—stacks of shelves bearing candles, sometimes one for each family member. Eventually these pyramids of candles were placed on the tree, the ancestors of our modern Christmas tree lights and ornaments.

Nicholas and Wenceslas

It also took a long time for trees to become associated with presents. Though legend connects the idea of Christmas gifts with the gifts the Magi brought Jesus, the real story is more complicated. Like trees, gifts were first a Roman practice—traded during the winter solstice. As Epiphany, and later Christmas, replaced the winter solstice as a time of celebration for Christians, the gift-giving tradition continued for a while. By late antiquity it had died out, although gifts were still exchanged at New Year's.

Gifts were also associated with St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey), who became famous for giving gifts to poor children. His feast day (December 6) thus became another occasion for gift exchanges. During the early Middle Ages, Christmas gifts most often took the form of tributes paid to monarchs—although a few rulers used the holiday season as an opportunity to give to the poor or to the church instead (most notably Duke Wenceslas of Bohemia, whose story inspired the popular carol, and William the Conqueror, who chose Christmas 1067 to make a large donation to the pope).

Like trees, gifts came "inside" the family around the time of Luther, as the custom of giving gifts to friends and family members developed in Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. Often these were given anonymously, or hidden. One Danish custom was to rewrap a gift many times with different names on each wrapper, so that the intended recipient was only discovered when all the layers were opened.

Victorian Christmas

In the English-speaking world, the union of gifts, trees, and Christmas was due to the influence of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, a native of Saxony (now part of Germany). German immigrants had brought the custom of Christmas trees with them in the early 1800s, but it spread widely after Victoria and Albert set up an elaborate tree for their children at Windsor Castle in 1841. At this point, Christmas presents were usually hung on the tree itself.

German and Dutch immigrants also brought their traditions of trees and presents to the New World in the early 1800s. The image of happy middle-class families exchanging gifts around a tree became a powerful one for American authors and civic leaders who wished to replace older, rowdier, and more alcohol-fueled Christmas traditions—such as wassailing—with a more family-friendly holiday. This family-centered image was widely popularized by Clement Moore's 1822 poem, known today as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" (which also helped give us our modern picture of Santa Claus).

As many of us make trees and gifts the center of our own Christmas practice, we would do well to remember that they are ultimately symbols of the One who gave himself to unite heaven and earth, and who brings all barren things to flower.

Written by: Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Edwin Woodruff Tait is assistant professor of Bible and religion at Huntington University. Jennifer Woodruff Tait is adjunct professor of church history at Asbury Theological Seminary.

Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History & Biography magazine.

Church Calendar


Sunday Morning Worship
Sunday Mornings at 11:00am

Sunday School is offered for children. Fellowship with a light lunch follows worship every Sunday. Communion is held the first Sunday of each month. Everyone is welcome at Calvary's table.


Handel's Messiah Sing-Along Concert
Saturday, December 6th at 4:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Sanctuary

Bake Sale
Sunday, December 7th

Location: Calvary UMC Fellowship Hall
Calvary's Children and Youth Committee will be conducting two bake sales in which all proceeds will go towards the Children's Christmas Party. The bake sales will be held immediately after church in the Fellowship Hall on Sunday, November 16th and Sunday, December 7th. Donations of baked goods will be appreciated. More information to follow. Please contact Susan Laczko with any questions.

New Member Orientation Dinner
Monday, December 8th at 6:00pm or
Wednesday, December 10th at 6:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Chapel
Reverend Larry invites everyone interested in learning more about our congregation and its ministries to join him for a light dinner on either Monday, December 8th or Wednesday, December 10th. If you are seeking to join our family of faith please join us on either of these Tuesdays in December. Please RSVP to the church office by calling 412.231.2007 or by emailing New members will be received on Sunday, December 14th during our morning worship service.

New Member Sunday
Sunday, December 14th
Location: Calvary UMC
We will be welcoming new members into our family of faith on this Sunday in December.

Calvary Annual Charge Conference
Wednesday, December 17th at 7:00pm
Location: Calvary UMC
Calvary will be holding its Annual Charge Conference with our District Superintendent Rev. Paul Taylor. Please plan on attending as we will be discussing matters of importance for the upcoming year.

Bi-Monthly Church Council Meeting - Cancelled
December's meeting falls on Christmas. This meeting is cancelled.

Candlelight Christmas Eve
Wednesday, December 24th

Location: Calvary UMC Sanctuary
7:00pm: Music
7:30pm: Service

January 2015

Bi-Monthly Committee Meeting
Thursday, January 22nd at 6:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Chapel

February 2015

Bi-Monthly Church Council Meeting
Thursday, February 26th at 6:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Chapel

March 2015

Bi-Monthly Committee Meeting
Thursday, March 26th at 6:00pm

Location: Calvary UMC Chapel
Visit Calvary UMC on Facebook
Visit Calvary UMC on Facebook
Visit Cavary UMC's Website
Visit Cavary UMC's Website
Send an Email to Calvary UMC
Send an Email to Calvary UMC
Main Photo - Chris Siewers Photography
Copyright © 2014 Calvary United Methodist Church, All rights reserved.

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