Christmas vespers continue as treasured tradition

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Margie Burnett, music director at Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, directs the adult choir in a rehearsal for Christmas vesper service planned at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The service, in its 65th year at the church, is a Mahoning Valley tradition and signals the start of Christmas for many.



For many Valley residents, attending the candlelight vesper service at Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church starts their Christmas season. It’s a treasured tradition.

That’s what Margie Burnett, who was born into and baptized at the city church, has gleaned from personal experience and recounted stories from others over the years.

The music director said the 65th annual event Sunday will put those attending in the Christmas spirit through the lessons and music. Burnett became children’s choir director in 1974 and was appointed music director in 1994. “I know I’ve performed in it since I was little," she said.

Though the musical program entertains, it also serves to enlighten the audience through readings from Scripture.

The nine lessons and carols are based on a traditional service conducted at Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, England, Burnett said.

After a welcome by the Rev. Peter Del Nagro, pastor, the congregation will hear the call to worship and processional song of the lively “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The accompanying verse from Isaiah 9:2-6 is, in part, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Christ often is referred to as light of the world.

Burnett said there will be Scripture from the Old and New Testaments with readings by the pastor and Emily, 16, and Joseph Tarantine, 18.

A line from Isaiah 40:1-5, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” will be interpreted by a liturgical dance by Caitlin Moran. Burnett said Moran is a church member and dance major at Youngstown State University. Other dancers will participate.

A verse from Michah 5:2-4 predicts the ruler from Israel who has been foretold. Zachary Weese will present a violin solo.

The 30-member adult choir and children choir of about 20 participants will lend their voices in the choral response along with the youth handbell choir of eight, Burnett said.

She added some church members and community residents form a small orchestra, which also contributes to the program in addition to the brass quintet. “The participation makes it truly a community event,” she said.

Burnett said the “March of the Wisemen” projects an Oriental flair. “There’s an oboe and somehow it makes you think of a camel in the desert,” she said.

Another unusual presentation will be “All on a Bethlehem Night” with a calypso beat. The adult and children’s choirs will be featured.

“We like to do a variety ... from traditional to new,” Burnett said. The musical choices evoke various emotions from anticipation to wonder.

Featured soloists will be Melinda Weiss, Dan Mook and Carol Vesy and Jim Lockner will offer the rousing “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

“As Christians, we can’t hear the story of the birth of Christ enough,” Burnett said.

The Christmas vesper program emphasizes the reason for the season.

“Silent Night” conveys the meaning of the light underscored by a candlelight ceremony.

The recessional, “Joy to the World,” concludes on an uplifting note.

“The most important thing is taking away God’s message,” Burnett said.

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