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Teenaged parishioners from three churches — including Christ Church in Lake Forest — perform "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for children whose parents are in prison.

That’s the spirit

photography by joel lerner

Parishioners, ministers spread cheer as Christmas approaches ■ by bill mclean Colt Foerch stands on a makeshift stage at The Sign of the Dove Church in Waukegan. The Deerfield High School senior shouts, “Oh, good grief!” Foerch — a teenaged parishioner at Christ Church in Lake Forest — is Charlie Brown, lead character in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Foerch’s character emotes some more near his little sister, Sally Brown — portrayed by none other than Lexis Foerch, Colt’s little sister in real life. Every member of the audience welcomes the holiday production on Dec. 14. It is a festive escape for all of them — every member of the audience is also the child of one, or two, imprisoned parents. “For a lot of the kids, the day they see this play is their Christmas Day,” Colt Foerch said on Dec. 13, when he and six other teenaged parishioners of Christ Church performed the play for the students at Forrestal Elementary School in Great Lakes. Christ Church parishioners joined those from The Sign of the Dove Church and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Waukegan to host a Christmas party for the children of inmates. The kids ate cookies and cupcakes and slurped cider before the play. They received gifts from Angel Tree, a ministry of Prison Fellowship, after the play. “We care about these kids. We want to get to know them,” said Kim Gates, who oversees Prison Ministry at Christ Church and serves as the chaplain at the Lake County Jail. “Too often they’re forgotten,” she added. Consumerism too often buries the true meaning of Christmas. The holiday season should be about the birth of Jesus Christ and providing hole-free socks for the disadvantaged. It is one of the messages church leaders along the North Shore have been espousing this month. Their parishioners are listening.

Their parishioners are acting and giving. And spreading warmth — via either donated coats or interaction. “People are grieving. People are dealing with a loss or losses,” said The Rev. Dale Susan Edmonds, interim coordinator for congregational care at Glenview Community Church. “Not everybody is glittery and rushing around, shopping for gifts and planning holiday dinners and parties. “There are many people out there who simply want to talk, want to be heard,” she added. “Talking helps those who are grieving.” Edmonds leads a special group at Glenview Community Church. It is called “Called to Care.” A dozen of parishioners have been assigned to brighten lives that have absorbed recent hits. A unique 12-foot Christmas tree stands inside Glenview Community Church. It is made up entirely of poinsettias. After Christmas, students in Edmonds’ eighth-grade confirmation class won’t just dismantle the tree. They also will connect with elderly shut-ins. “The kids will call to make an appointment and then deliver poinsettias to the people,” Edmonds said. “The kids will interact with them, learn all about their lives. “The elderly really appreciate it,” she added, “because many of them rarely get the opportunity to spend time with young people.” People of all ages showed up at Glenview Community Church on Dec. 14 to warble during the second annual Do-It-Yourself Messiah and Carol Sing. The free event featured the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra and the church’s chancel choir. “We’re planning to sing 15-20 pieces,” Edmonds, an alto soloist, said before the final rehearsal last weekend. “To do that, with an orchestra … you can’t do that in a kitchen.” You can attend a Christmas service on one of three dates (Dec. 21, Dec. 22, Dec. 24) at Willow Creek Community

Church’s North Shore campus in Northfield. “Since many people travel this time of year, we want to give them several opportunities to celebrate Christmas at their church,” said Jackie Herron-Whitfield, pastor of compassion and justice at Willow Creek-North Shore. Willow Creek-North Shore’s initiative this holiday season also focuses on the incarcerated. Approximately 1,000 juveniles in Illinois will not spend Christmas at home, Herron-Whitfield noted. “Many of them never get visitors this time of year,” she said. “And it’s cold at many of the facilities.” Through the generosity of donors, the juveniles will receive sweat suits, along with care boxes containing gloves and scarves. People — strangers — will visit them and make their day. Perhaps their holiday. “It’s in the Bible,” Herron-Whitfield said. “Jesus’ message was clear. His message was, ‘When you visit a prisoner, you visit me.’ ” An image of an upside Christmas tree hangs in the lobby at Christ Church in Lake Forest. It was not put up there hastily. The words near the image: “Turning Christmas Upside Down.” Translation: Spend less, devote more time to others. “Servicing others gives you energy,” Gates said. “People find that out when they focus on others at this time of year. They then want to serve some more. They get blessed in return. They get renewed.” Kat Metzger got chilly while watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Forrestal Elementary on Dec. 13. She directs the drama troupe at Christ Church. “It was flawless,” she said. “I was so proud. To see how excited the audience got, to hear the children laughing and clapping … it gave me goose bumps.” ■

The North Shore Weekend EAST, Issue 63  

The North Shore Weekend (East Zone) is published weekly and features the news and personalities of Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Northfiel...