What started as the vision of a single church congregation member has grown into an annual tradition that draws many from all over the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
A Christmas display with a difference, The Journey of Christmas, the annual series of dioramas at St. Mark’s, Ocean Park, is now in its 18th season at the church, at 12953 20 Ave.
Open hours for the by-donation event are from 6 p.m to 9 p.m each evening until Dec. 23, and 3:30-9 p.m. Christmas Eve (Dec. 24)
As always, it tells the Christmas story – as recorded in The Bible – through a series of nine outdoor displays, including mannequins, theatrical props and lighting and a specially-produced soundtrack.
For visitors, the main purpose is an opportunity for families to revisit and reflect on the meaning and significance of events leading to the birth of Jesus during a short walk through the woods behind the church, followed by hot chocolate and cookies in the church hall.
“It all started with John Reader in 1998,” said Brian Walks, who has chaired the event for the last nine years.
“His vision was to bring a Christian perspective into the presentation – something that one of the past members of the committee has called ‘our gift to the community.’
Walks adds that the vision continues even though these days Reader – as a ‘snowbird’ – is more likely to be found south of the border during December.
As the event has increasingly evolved into a community gathering and celebration, live entertainment – presented in the hall, and sometimes the sanctuary, during most of the evenings of the display – has gained added significance in complementing the event, Walks said.
“We’re now calling it our Arts Showcase,” he added.
The 10th White Rock Boy Scouts kicked off the schedule on Thursday, but this Saturday (Dec. 17) the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society singers will present a medley of carols and pieces from G&S shows.
“They’re a returning favourite – there are usually around 25 of them and they’re very interactive with the crowd,” Walks said.
The St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church choirs from North Delta will be back for a second year on Dec. 18, he said.
“I think they enjoyed themselves last time, and they brought a full contingent with them.”
On Dec. 19 ‘organ blaster’ Michael Dirk and his wife Annabelle Ip – St. Mark’s current organist – will present an organ and piano recital. Walks said.
“He started as a substitute organist at St. Mark’s when he was 16,” Walks recalled. “He’s about 32 now. People love to see him at the church, but it’s years since he did a concert here – I think he’s going to do some of his famous foot-pedal-only pieces.”
On Dec. 20, Stacy Silva, a missionary with Youth With A Mission in Brazil will be highlighted.
“She’s agreed to play guitar for us – and she’ll probably lead us in Christmas music as well,” Walks said.
Guitarist and ukelele player Steve Hovan has volunteered to entertain on Dec. 21, while on Dec. 22 it’s the turn of the St. Mark’s choir, led by new director Emily Worden Kwok.
“She started in September and almost as soon as she came on board she asked if the choir could sing for The Journey of Christmas,” Walks said.
“The choir loves doing this because of the atmosphere and because its a chance to perform at a casual occasion.”
On Dec. 23, popular classical and Broadway repertoire singers – and congregation members – Debra Da Vaughn and Christopher Simmons will offer their own recital. “They’ll do a mix of their own music and Christmas music – and knowing Chris and Debra, they’ll put on a full two and a half hour show.”
Walks also noted that on Christmas Eve, the church will provide a 5 p.m. children’s service, as well as candlelight services at 7 and 11 p.m.