PHOTOS: Santa gets a night off – ‘Keeping Christ in Christmas’ aim of service

Marco has outgrown its original church. The historic building sits next to the island cemetery at Elkcam Circle and Bald Eagle Drive, on land owned by the New Life Community Church of God. The church and gazebo nearby, brightly festooned with Christmas decorations and lights, served as the backdrop for “Keeping Christ in Christmas” service Sunday evening.

The sun set behind the church, and the wind grew seasonally chill, as the ceremony was kicked off by the New Life Praise Band and choir performing “The Cradle that Rocked the World.” The stage set up in front of the audience/congregation had all the trappings of a rock concert, with a drumset, complete with chimes, keyboard, electric guitars and bass all lit up by bright lights, and the choir behind.

Signs in front of the stage proclaimed “Merry Christmas,” in green letters with “Christ” in red and underlined, making the point. Those picking their way to the front of the stage to speak or sing had to carefully negotiate the maze of cords and mic stands.

Rev. Thomas McCulley of the New Life Community Church of God, hosting the event, didn’t bother, though, and took the stage in a single giant step. He greeted the attendees, led the invocation, saying ”What a pleasure to worship with you, and have a Christian party.”

Christmas Island Style chairman Steve Stefanides told of just having met a woman, Lucretia Castor, sitting in the historical church, who remembered worshipping there as a little girl. Then he introduced a guest from the past, island pioneer Tommie Barfield, elegant in hat, gloves and pearls, who told of life in Marco’s early days. On other days, “Tommie Barfield” is Betsy Perdichizzi, who has played the role in reenactments.

She spoke of coming to Marco Island in 1900, and becoming Collier County’s first superintendent of schools, despite having only a third grade education. “Schooling was so important to me,” she said.

Rodica Schemik, from the United Church, sang Silent Night in German, a capella. Steve Dawes, music pastor at Capri Christian Church, sang “His Name Will Be Called” and “Bethlehem Morning” with an invisible choir and orchestra, thanks to backing tracks.

Local attorney and Historical Society maven Craig Woodward shared more island history, telling of when the only road from north to south on Marco was nothing but rough limestone, and there were no bridges to the mainland.

The Barrett family was well-represented in the evening’s musical entertainment. Dad Greg Barrett is the music minister at New Life church, playing the keyboard and directing the Praise Team vocalists. Son Jesse Barrett sang “O Holy Night” as a solo, and daughter Madelyn Barrett played “Joy to the World” as a guitar duo with Josh Kohler. Then Greg’s wife Tica Barrett came down from her place in the choir and belted out “He is Still the Christ of Christmas.”

After the closing prayer, the attendees gathered for refreshments and hot cider, welcome on what had become a cool, breezy night.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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