Wylie Baptist Church’s Living Christmas Tree has become a special holiday tradition for many Wylie families, including Mike and Kelly Farmer.
For 35 years, the church has been presenting the unique production, which features choir members singing from inside a huge 30-foot Christmas tree. Like many of the families involved, three generations of Mike and Kelly’s family have participated in the event over the years.
“It’s a family affair for a lot of families,” Kelly said. “It takes our entire church from parking lot attendees to ticket takers to hostesses. We have children that sing, and the drama parts are very important.”
The church will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the tree this year and will honor Dalton and Shirley Stewart. Dalton started the Living Christmas Tree 35 years ago.
That first year’s presentation featured the choir singing from inside the tree; however, over the years, the church has added drama and their Praize Kidz to the program. Each year features something unique and different, although the presentation always points back to the birth of Christ.
The tree is eight rows high, holds 65 choir members and is covered in 40,000 lights.
“This is just unique,” Associate Pastor of Music Rick Grant said of the Living Christmas Tree. “This creates interest. We have people that see it every year. We have a lot of people that are here for the first time. It draws a lot of people. That’s what we want to do – tell the story of Christ to a lot of people. It’s a ministry for our community.”
Kelly has gone to Wylie Baptist Church her entire life. Her mother, Wilda McGowen sang in the Living Christmas Tree as part of the choir for 20 years. Kelly has been part of the choir and part of the drama production, and Mike has had numerous roles from acting as adult Jesus or the Angel Gabriel to running the sound. This year he will be one of the narrators.
Their three children, Jaron, Paige and Brooke performed numerous roles in the production when they were growing up. Jaron, a 2004 Wylie grad, was toddler Jesus one year; Brooke, a 2010 Wylie grad, was baby Jesus one year, and Paige, a 2007 Wylie grad, danced as an angel for many years. Although Paige no longer lives in Abilene, she still helps choreograph the dancing parts by Facebook Live.
Mike said participating in the production each year takes a lot of time but is very rewarding.
“It really is our gift to the community, but you feel like you are blessed more than it blesses them,” Mike said. “It’s a blessing to everyone involved in the church. I don’t think you could find anyone who has never been involved in some way. “
Over the years, the church has upgraded the tree structure three times, and technology has improved the sound and lights. Each year in early November, the men of the church get together on a Saturday morning to put the structure together, and later the women decorate. Choir and drama rehearsals start in August to prepare for the big event.
Kelly said Pastor Rick does an amazing job of organizing the event.
“Brother Rick makes it pure joy,” Kelly said. “He works so hard to make it fun and interesting. There is nothing to me more interesting than the journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Christ.”
Over the past 35 years, the church has continued the production even during years when it did not have a pastor. But last year might have been the toughest because the church’s beloved pastor Donny Harbers passed away on Nov. 4, just a month before the presentation.
But the show went on and was dedicated to his memory.
“Last year was a tough, tough year,” Kelly said. “We miss Brother Donny because he loved it so much, but thanks to Brother Rick the show still goes on.”
This year’s presentation is called Journey of Christmas to celebrate both the journey to Bethlehem and the church’s 35-year journey of producing the Living Christmas Tree. Kelly said in light of recent violence in Las Vegas and Southerland Springs, this year’s presentation is more important than ever.
“I think what this Christmas tree does is give hope,” she said. “People need this. They need that hope.”
Tickets for the Living Christmas Tree are free and can be obtained from the church office. See our calendar on Page 5 for dates and times of this year’s performances.