By Jonathan Phelps New Hampshire Union Leader
Dec 19, 2020 Updated Dec 20, 2020
MANCHESTER — Every year, Manchester Christian Church rents the SNHU Arena for a special Christmas service attended by thousands of people.
The gathering can’t happen this year, but not even COVID-19 can steal Christmas. This year the church has produced an hour-long Christmas special that will air at 2 p.m. Sunday on WMUR instead.
It’s not just any Christmas service.
The Hipshot Band from Boston jams to a medley of Christmas favorites like “This Christmas” and “Feliz Navidad,” and the folk rock band Town Meeting performs renditions of “The First Noel” and “Silent Night.” The church’s own worship band offers several other traditional hymns.
The church, which is not having in-person services right now, had to adapt after several years at the arena, said Jeremy Peterson, executive pastor.
Crews filmed the production at Studio Lab by Events United in Derry, where many organizations and businesses have filmed events during the pandemic.
“The goal of this is to really share hope,” he said. “We really feel like there are a lot of people in this season especially who are dealing with depression and anxiety. And we really want to bring hope.”
Throughout the special, people can text “HOPE” to 99000, and the church will respond.
“During the entire week of Christmas we’ll have someone responding to those messages,” Peterson said. “We’ll have a live person on the phone who will reach back to them.”
Ariana Earnshaw, a worship leader at MCC, and Dan King, creative arts pastor, sing during the MCC Christmas Special which will air on WMUR.Courtesy/MCC
Bo Chancey, senior pastor at MCC, reads a revamped version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”Courtesy/MCC
Light in the darkness
He said people might have questions about the church or the Christian faith.
“This season for many can be a very dark season. Maybe they lost a loved one this year or they are spending Christmas alone,” Peterson said. “For some, just an opportunity to have someone to talk with is something we hope provides comfort to people who might be hurting.”
The program features a segment on the work being done by the New Hampshire Food Bank as part of the church’s “Share the Love” campaign.
The program also will on the church's website, manchesterchristian.com, and on its Facebook and YouTube accounts at 7 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Online is a little different because we have an opportunity for people to talk to someone. We have chat features,” Peterson said.
Typically, 8,000 attend the event at the arena, with several thousand more watching online.
The message of the TV special revolved around connection, peace, joy and hope.
“We may have to work a little harder to unwrap the joy and hope of Christmas this year, but if we dig in, I am confident that we’ll discover it more than ever,” said Senior Pastor Bo Chancey during part of the program. “This year is different, but different doesn’t mean bad. It just means different.”
Chancey also read an adapted version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and gave about an 18-minute sermon.
Production of hope
Dan King, creative arts pastor, said about 40 people took part in the production, which was filmed over a day and half.
Some of the music featured isn't what people would typically expect to hear at a traditional church service, such as “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.”
“We hope to bring the joy of Christmas into our homes that we have not necessarily been able to experience a whole lot of this year,” he said.
The TV program gives MCC a change to expand its reach this Christmas, King said.
Once filmed at the Studio Lab, church staff and volunteers worked to edit the film.
Peterson said the church has seen about 3,000 tune in to its online services during the pandemic.
The church, with campuses in Bedford, Concord and Manchester, typically draws about 2,500 each Sunday.
More people are signing up to be a part of groups that meet on Zoom or other platforms throughout the week.
“We’ve been having church online for over three years so we already had that in place,” he said. “That continues to grow.”
Original article: www.unionleader.com