Avoree Gore sings "Breath of Heaven" during the eighth annual Hanging of the Greens service this past Sunday at First Baptist Church in Paris. (Nancy Zeman, The Prairie Press)

Service opens Advent

Hanging of the Greens reaches back to Metcalf Christian Church Service

The congregation of the First Baptist Church of Paris celebrated the Hanging of the Greens service Sunday evening but few knew the service had its beginnings for Pastor Troy Warner 30 years ago.

As a new pastor serving the Metcalf Christian Church, Warner said the church organist and pianist — Helen McNeese and Dorothy Quick — introduced him to the service. “I’d never heard of it,” Warner said. “They told me about it and I’ve used it ever since.”

This is the eighth Hanging of the Greens service at First Baptist. “I’ve led the service in some form since that first church,” Warner explained. The service has grown and evolved in his 30 years of ministry. “I just love it,” he said. “Dorothy and Helen taught me the core of the service.”

A capacity crowd filled the sanctuary of First Baptist Sunday, led by Warner, church’s the five member praise group, soloists and congregation members who provided readings.

Perhaps most moving was the participation of the church’s Legacy Youth who not only served as greeters but also hung the wreaths on the windows throughout the sanctuary and brought lighted candles that were placed in the windows. The younger members of the group also came in a procession to bring a piece of the church’s crèche that was built as “Away in the Manager” was sung.

There were 12 readers who provided scripture and reminders of the meaning of the season. The readers included Jo Tingley, Charles Shafer, Pastor Trent Horner, Deb Hawkins, Ben Roush, Deanna Mason, Darren German, Devin Mason, Caitlyn Blair, Wes Cochrane, Kristy German and Maddy Bobo.

Special music was provided by Maelyn Redman, Jonathan Boren, Tom Dolan and Jen ? and Avoree Gore.

Warner reminded the congregation Advent means “to come” and the first Sunday includes hope and expectation of the season. “Can you imagine a life without hope?” Warner said.

As he lit the first Advent calendar, Warner reminded the congregation, “Hope is not limited to the candle we light today. It is passed around Paris, Edgar County, our country and the world.” He noted it is the church’s job to remind people what Advent is about.

In the opening reading, Tingley noted, Getting ready for the Advent season has more meaning than just unpacking the Christmas decorations again, and placing them in our homes, businesses and especially the church. It means preparing our hearts for Jesus.”

Shafer shared the Christmas story from Matthew 1.

Youth Pastor Troy Horner emphasized the season of hope. “Tonight we being another season of waiting, a season of preparing and most important a season of hope,” he said. The service, he said, brings together the “church family to decorate God’s house as we celebrate the season of Advent that changed the world for all time.”

Reader Hawkins reminded those present “What started in a manger so many years ago continued to a cross where Jesus died for the sins of the world.” Roush noted there are many colors of the season, including the most common one, green.

“The evergreen is a symbol of life that represents the eternal life that is found only in Christ,” he said.

The needles on the Christmas tree point heavenward and symbolize the prayers of mankind. “Trees have been one of man’s best friends,” he noted. “They have sheltered him, warmed him and made beauty for him.”

Mason noted another color of Christmas is red. “Red was first used to remind people of faith in the blood of Christ,” she said. “It is a symbol of God’s greatest gift to all mankind, Jesus.”

Jesus came to be the light of the world and help us to become children of his light, Darren German said. “Both the lights of candles and the strings of lights used around the tree and even placed around our homes both inside and outside remind us that Jesus came to bring us the light.”

Mason shared the experience of the shepherds on that first Christmas while Blair emphasized “if it were not for the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, there would be no reason to celebrate.”

Cochrane called those with red ornaments to place them on the church tree, noting the red color signifies “the blood that he shed.”

Kristy German discussed the importance of gold, noting neither gold or silver is more precious than Jesus. Gold and silver ornaments were placed on the tree as a reminder.

Maddy Bobo noted the laurel and bay are symbols of victory. The cypress was symbolic of eternal life while mistletoe is a symbol of peace. The poinsettia with its star-shaped leaves “remind us of the star that led the shepherds to the place where Jesus lay.” Poinsettias were placed around the church tree in memory of loved ones of congregation members.

The service concluded with candlelight. “We usually circle the sanctuary, but there are too many people to do that,” an emotional Warner said. He lit candles of those attending in the pews and all stood singing together.

“When we first began this service eight years ago we had about 50 people,” Warner said. “This year there were more than 130.”

He concluded by reminding the congregation the definition of evangelism. “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where they got the bread,” he concluded.

The Prairie Press

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