Many Christmas traditions are resilient, spanning decades and often centuries, often with modifications to reflect the times. Others are more fleeting, such as must-have toys/gifts that get hyped for one Christmas only to disappear by the next.
One Harford County tradition that flourished then ebbed was the Living Christmas Tree concert at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Bel Air. Started in 1985 by then Minister of Music the Rev. Ken Tipton, the performances went on for a stretch of 25 years, coming to an end in 2009. The concerts were a big undertaking for the church, for any church really, and that they ended when they did was understandable.
They also were quite popular, consistently “sold out” year after year. While the tickets were free, there were a limited number for each concert, and year after year it was a must-see event featured in scores of newspaper and magazine articles.
Friday evening, the Living Christmas Tree returned to Oak Grove for the first of several concerts this holiday season. As Aegis staff photographer Matt Button’s article accompanying his dramatic photos in Friday’s edition explained, the Rev. Adam Lewandowski, minister of music and worship, along with long-time friend and pastor at Oak Grove, Rev. Jim Testerman, and others decided it was time to bring back the popular event for the community.
"I was put on staff here in September 2016 and said well OK, the tree is coming back in 2017. The church knew when they hired me on that was going to be our goal for this year, and we got started on it right away," Lewandowski told Button.
Pulling off the seven performances takes a small army of about 150 volunteers and months of planning and preparation. From choir practices, which began in July, to parking attendants and other helpers for the performances, everyone pulls together and makes it happen.
“As big as it is, and as much of as an undertaking as it may seem, it actually was very easy and we had a great response from the people in the church to help. If the whole church doesn't get behind it, then it doesn't happen. We had a lot of support and without that support, we just couldn't do it," Lewandowski said.
Not surprisingly, all the performances this season have been sold out. Still, it’s great to know a most cherished Harford County Christmas tradition, once believed gone for good, has been resurrected at Oak Grove. Hopefully the Living Christmas Tree program can continue for many more Christmases to come.