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The gift of smiles

December 24, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY – For one member, it’s “O Holy Night.” Another is especially fond of “Silent Night.” One more said, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” is one of her top three.

These Christmas carols are a few of those that Temple Missionary Baptist Church at 2725 Wabash includes in its outreach ministry to spread cheer during the holidays each year.

Around a dozen members, including family and friends at times, travel to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to sing Christmas carols.

This year they chose Rittenhouse Village at Michigan City, Trail Creek Place, Life Care Center of Michigan City, and Silver Birch of Michigan City. In years past, they’ve caroled at Franciscan Health Michigan City as well.

It wasn’t the first time the group visited Trail Creek Place, but it was the first time Life Enrichment Assistant Sheryl Lowder had the opportunity to experience the Temple carolers.

“It was amazing – they had amazing voices. I really really enjoyed it, especially when the choir members did a duet and a solo,” she said. “I liked the pastor’s twist on ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.”

Lowder was referring to Pastor Brian Parker changing “if the fates allow” in the song to “if the Lord allows” in his traditional solo. He also serves as piano player for many outings.

“That was the wow factor you look for,” Lowder explained.

She said she wasn’t the only one enjoying the caroling; the residents were pleased, too.

At Rittenhouse Village, about 30 residents came out to hear Temple’s singers on last Sunday.

One was 86-year-old Patricia Bracken, who’s been a resident for four years. Asked if she enjoyed the singing, her reply was, “Oh, yes!”

“She said going down and listening to groups singing Christmas carols brings some joy and happiness to their days. Different groups sing different types of songs so they have a nice variety,” explained Bracken’s daughter, Chris O’Connell.

“But she especially likes it when our church comes because we focus our songs on Jesus – plus she loves seeing her grandson (Aaron Rehbein) and hearing him sing,” she said.

Bracken said though Christmastime can be difficult, living in a place that has carolers and other holiday entertainment for the residents really helps bring joy.

For Tammy Sage, who became a member of Temple last March, joining the singers at her new church was the first time she’d caroled as an adult.

“What a blessing to carol with my church family,” Sage said. “I was so amazed by how beautiful we all sounded. We have an amazing and talented pastor. It’s brought a whole new meaning for me to Christmas. It gave me goose bumps and it brought one lady at Silver Birch to tears. This is God’s glory shining brightly on those precious souls.”

O’Connell, a member of Temple for six years, has always enjoyed singing and especially caroling when she was very young.

“Being a Christian, the songs about Jesus have deep meaning to me and touch my heart. Singing those Christmas carols gives me the opportunity to worship and give respect to my savior. Going to different places such as assisted livings, nursing homes or hospitals as a group allows me fellowship and interaction with my church family, while at the same time bringing a little joy, hope and happiness to those we are caroling to.”

This year, O’Connell and her son, Aaron Rehbein, sang “Silent Night” as a duet.

“Not only was that special to me, but it was also a treat for my mother,” O’Connell said. “Seeing my mother smile is a gift in itself.”

“It’s special to me just seeing the happiness on the faces of those we are caroling for,” said member LaShaune Green, who began caroling with the church four years ago.

“It truly brings me as much joy as it does them – if not more. I especially like going to the people afterward for a little one-on-one and to share a hug and thank them for having us.”

The church members try to bring small items to share with the audience. Last year members made coasters out of ceramic tiles with photos of the lighthouse at Washington Park taken by local photographer Robb Quinn.

This year the church family made 140 snowflake ornaments out of popsicle sticks. And, this is the second year that Cheryl Nowatzke crocheted candy cane holders. She estimated it takes about 15 minutes to complete one; she started taking crochet lessons last spring.

“I do it because I love to crochet and it dresses up the candy canes a little,” she said.

“So many have Christmas trees in their rooms and they took the ornaments and put them right on their trees. Anything homemade is special,” Lowder said.

Parker said, “I appreciate the sacrifice our people are willing to make every year to offer encouragement to others.”

Caroling is open to all ages and anyone regardless of singing ability.

The church continues its caroling tradition as they deliver a dozen or so fruit baskets to senior church members, widows and widowers, or just someone who needs an extra dose of care this holiday season. They bring in items, including homemade cookies, for the baskets and assemble them together. Then, they devote an evening close to Christmas to carol to the recipients as they present the gifts.

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