Two area churches have joined forces to put on a classic Christmas story as an Advent gift to the community.
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” tells the story of three kings, a widowed mother, and her crippled son, who gives his only possession, his crutch, to the Christ child and is healed on the first Christmas. The one-hour opera, penned by Gian Carlo Menotti, was first produced for NBC Television Theater on Christmas Eve 1951. Now it’s being brought to the Liverpool community by St. Joseph the Worker Roman Catholic Church and Liverpool First United Methodist Church.
The idea for the production came from James O. Welsch, LFUMC music director. Welsch also teaches at the Setnor School of Music at Syracuse University. Welsch said the show typifies the message of the season, regardless of a person’s spirituality.
“The message is clear,” he said. “Even if you’re not religious at all, the message is clear in that we give something of ourselves to others as an obligation to some extent – being wholesomely connected with another person. We share that as ours and we receive what is not ours. The theme of this is the general holiday feeling of experiencing hope and joy in a season and in people. If you are religious, it has that very sound sort of theological base about the birth of the Christmas child.”
Linda Loomis, a member of the choir at LFUMC, called Welsch “a visionary” and said he not only wanted to do “Amahl,” but to invite participation from another area church.
“It did kind of start with James having this idea that together in the community, we could do something bigger than what we could do with just one group of people,” Loomis said. “So we invited the St. Joe’s people and met with them a couple of times in August. We had those preliminary, exploratory meetings – would it work?”
Eileen Brody, director of music at St. Joseph the Worker, was intrigued by the idea.
“My choir was ready to take a step ahead,” Brody said. “I’d been with them a year and a half at that point, and they had become my group, and it was just like, ‘We’re ready for a challenge.’ And I love ‘Amahl,’ and when [Linda] suggested it, I thought this is a great marriage. In the middle of the summer, it seemed like a wonderful thing to do.”
The initial meetings between the two churches took place in August. From there, things moved quickly.
“We made the commitment Sept. 8,” Loomis said. “From there, things have had to move quickly. We built up to that with exploring and talking and thinking, ‘What if, what if,’ but that’s the day we met after church and said, ‘It’s a go.’ From that point on, that’s been the focus.”
Auditions began later that month, and both the adult and children’s choirs received the music for the opera in October. Mary Rhys was recruited to direct the children’s choir while Mary Carrow came aboard to handle choreography. Meanwhile, all leads and participants are local. Several of Welsch’s students from the Setnor School of Music are joined by musicians from Liverpool High School in the orchestra.
Everyone agreed that this has been a very successful collaboration.
“We’ve tried this before in the past with the Presbyterian church around the corner, and doing the collaborative effort and tried to engage in the conversation about similarities as opposed to differences,” Welsch said. “Not to say that it wasn’t successful, but I think this was the first time that we’ve both really been drawn into the same idea and both entities really kind of fall in love with it a little bit. It becomes about the communal process and less about the differing ideology.”
Loomis echoed his sentiments.
“I think there’s a lot of talent that’s not just in this church and it’s not just in that church, and God doesn’t just smile down on one church or the other,” she said. “We’re all here together. We’re all neighbors and we’re all part of a community. I think by working together, we’ve just discovered not only that we can share faith but that we can talk openly about the things that really matter to us. Here it’s community. It’s just a really big deal to us.”
Two performances will be held at St. Joseph the Worker Church at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday Dec. 11. There is no charge for admission, but free will donations will be collected; proceeds will help feed the hungry in the community through the ecumenical food pantries at St. Joseph the Worker Church and Brown Memorial United Methodist Church’s Near West Side Ministries. Seating will begin half an hour before the performances. The church is located at 1001 Tulip St., Liverpool.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.