OPELIKA, Ala. (BP)–For the past 17 years, members of First Baptist Church in Opelika, Ala., as well as the surrounding community have grown to love the church’s living Christmas tree musical production.
And with that production came the familiar face and leadership of John Leland.
This year’s production is without Leland, who died Nov. 5 at the age of 60 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer July 5.
Leland originated the annual event and was minister of music at the Opelika church for 24 years. Knowing of his impending death, he continued with plans for this year’s Christmas production, making sure arrangements were in place.
“John insisted that we continue on schedule with the plans for the living Christmas tree production,” Cathy Tidwell, the church’s music and student ministries secretary, said. “He loved it so much — he considered it a ministry. He always told the choir that this program was our Christmas gift to the community.”
Tidwell, who described Leland as a “godly man” and a “fine Christian example” with the love of Christ shining from his face, said, “John was in the pulpit for three services every Sunday, and he directed Wednesday night choir rehearsal every week up until the week he died.”