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Singing Christmas tree comforts tornado-torn town

More than 50 adults, youth and children participated in the 2021 singing Christmas tree at First Baptist Church of Monette, comforting the community after deadly tornadoes.

MONETTE, AR (BP) — The metal and wood that framed the annual singing Christmas tree for years at First Baptist Church of Monette were in storage. The church’s desire to reach the community ended the tree’s five-year hiatus.

Thirty voices practiced. Hands refurbished the tree with new greenery and lights. Youth and children practiced their parts as Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds and such.

A behemoth line of tornadoes killed about 90 across several states — including two Monette residents — hours before the first scheduled performance. There was no electrical power for days, and a couple of members of the church lost their homes in the EF-4 tornado that struck Monette Dec. 10.

First Baptist Monette Pastor Stan Ballard, among tenors on the tree, rescheduled the event for two performances Dec. 19 and drew “great crowds.” Both church members who lost their homes in the storm sang in both presentations.

First Monette “felt like this was a way of ministering to our church after the tornado, so that we could turn a setback into a comeback,” Ballard said. “The idea was the real meaning of Christmas, what Christmas is really about, and of course that’s the Lord. We thought it was good for our community, to lift up the Lord and bring glory to Him through this.”

“Glory to the Newborn King,” “Emmanuel Shall Come,” “O, Holy Night,” “Who Would Imagine A King” and other treasured selections filled the sanctuary with music and lyrics. Joseph, Gabriel, Mary the mother of Jesus, and shepherds portrayed by children and youth dramatized Jesus’ arrival.

Lynn Smith returned as the director, having directed the event for 16 years before retiring as First Monette minister of music in 2016. Current music minister Mark Hurst invited Smith to return.

Smith recalls the work that went into the original construction commissioned by the late Captain Lovell in 1998, who was First Monette’s pastor.

“He commissioned a welder who was a member of the church to build the structure for the tree,” Smith said. “And then we came up with how to decorate it, how to light it.”

Near the end of the performance, lighting in the center of the tree shines the shape of a cross.

By 2016, many thought the tree had run its course, Smith said.

“They just didn’t feel like it fit in anymore with how things were,” he said. “But now, they have learned now that it really does. And we had great success with it this year, great success with it.”

Smith was delighted to direct the tree this year, having enjoyed its previous run.

“Every time we did it, our aim was to let that group of people who came to see it – a lot of them were Christian people but a lot of them were not –- we wanted to show them the birth of the Savior, that the Savior lived a human life, and that the Savior died for us,” Smith said. “And we wanted to project that message. That’s what we always strove to do.”

Smith is currently a member of Nettleton Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ballard’s immediate past pastorate, which Smith joined after his wife Linda died in 2019. Two vanloads of Nettleton Baptist members attended this year’s singing tree.

Jessica Hurst, who sang on the tree for years before the annual event was paused, found comfort in its return. Music director Hurst is her husband.

“It was nice to bring it back,” Hurst said. “We’ve all had a trying few years, and to have something that is familiar and a tradition to be brought back, it was comforting.”

She enjoyed singing alongside friends and family members and seeing friendly and familiar faces in the audience.

“When we were doing it annually it was fun. It was a time to come together as a church in the community and provide a way for outreach,” she said. “A lot of people will attend Christmas programs that might not attend church.”