GREENFIELD — Mock news anchor Rod Stark shrugged off a group of children pleading with him to promote a party celebrating the birth of Jesus.
“They’re adorable, cute; naive. Who’s going to go to a 2,000-year-old man’s birthday? Not me!” said the reporter, played by Joel Cookston.
Cookston was practicing at Park Chapel Christian Church Thursday, the only adult actor among dozens of children preparing for Saturday’s presentation of “The Best Christmas Present Ever.”
And with shopping, lights, tinsel and more, Cookston’s question is relevant in today’s society, when many identify Santa Claus as the man of the season more than a baby in a manger.
Houses of worship across Hancock County are celebrating the birth of Jesus this month with concerts and programs, several starting this weekend.
While there are still traditional Christmas cantatas and Nativity plays, some church leaders are hoping a modern spin will help the audience relate more to faith. And because church attendance is higher at Christmastime, a fresh perspective on the Biblical tale could especially reach those who don’t typically worship.
Park Chapel’s play begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Cookston said in an era of social media and commercialism, telling the traditional Christmas message in a present-day context fits in the “glossy world we live in.”
Don Crane, fine arts associate minister, said the play helps children relate to the Biblical message because it uses themes and language kids are familiar with.
It also helps the audience, assistant Pam Christman added.
“I think it makes it more applicable to their lives if they see that Jesus is still an important person and that his birth is important, and that it was a turning point in history,” she said.
Brandywine Community Church’s children’s play this weekend is a spoof on a reality TV show called “The Amazing Race for the Messiah.”
Director Mendy Owens calls it a “kind of half-modern, half-Biblical” musical, where the three wise men are in a race to Bethlehem against Herod, the king who was plotting to kill baby Jesus. While the setting for the play is in Biblical time, news anchors and commercial breaks put a twist on the tale.
Owens explains that’s because Christmas is one of the main opportunities churches have to reach out to those who don’t typically attend.
“This is more for the adults than it is for the kids,” Owens said. “Adults are the ones that come to see their kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. It helps them relate a little bit, and it kind of takes the story everyone has heard every year and puts a new twist on it.”
Nontraditional children’s programs have been common at Brandywine in recent years. Last year, a locally written play featuring children dressed as superheroes relayed the story of Christmas.
“At the end, all of the superheroes bowed at the Nativity. It was really cool,” Owens said.
Brandywine’s program featuring about 50 local kids begins at 6 p.m. Sunday. While the children’s program may have a new, trendy plot every year, Owens said the Christian message of Jesus as the savior coming to the world will remain the same.
“You can’t take away from that message, but you just try to present it in a manner that it might be interesting for someone, and that message is still relevant for people today,” Owens said.
At Wilkinson Church of Christ, children are practicing for “Angel Alert,” a program set for Dec. 16.
“It’s retelling the story of Jesus from the angel’s perspective,” said director Tracy McCarty.
The light-hearted play features angels waiting to announce the birth of Jesus. While the perspective of the heavenly host of angels isn’t detailed in the Bible, McCarty said the upbeat play is a different approach to the holiday story nearly everybody is familiar with.
“I want to make sure the story of Jesus is told,” she said. “That’s what Christmas is all about. Usually Christmas and Easter are the two times that people who are not active in church go to church.”
Still, other churches are sticking with the more traditional script, complete with a bright star and a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Two dozen children and adults will present a live Nativity scene in downtown Greenfield at 6 p.m. tonight. It’s a 25-year tradition for the Greenfield First Church of God.
“Our goal is hopefully that it will touch at least one person, that they will want to know who Jesus Christ is and they’ll want to have a relationship with him,” said Ann Williams, church secretary.
She said many at Greenfield’s Christmas Festival give positive feedback on the play, put on in a winter wonderland with lights, a parade and Santa Claus.
Williams said ultimately it doesn’t really matter if a church decides to go the traditional route or take put modern spin on the story, as long as the play’s message is the same.
“I think you need to do whatever reaches people to let them know the truth about Christmas,” Williams said. “So, if that’s traditional like we’ve been doing … or nontraditional, whatever reaches people for Christ – that should be everybody’s goal.”