ORONO, Maine — The last rays of a winter sunset tumbled Friday afternoon into the sanctuary of the Church of Universal Fellowship, illuminating the faces of three generations of families sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the sanctuary’s purple pews.
The youngest of them squirmed with the excitement. The oldest attempted to settle a grandchild with a gentle arm around a shoulder or a whispered word. The middle generation seemed to be lost in thought, perhaps shuffling through memories from the Christmas Eves of their childhood.
“Today, at this service, there is no such thing as too loud or too exuberant,” the Rev. Lorna Grenfell, pastor of the Main Street church, said as the 4 p.m. service got under way. “Tonight, we’re all children at heart.”
The informal 30-minute Christmas Eve service included carols, a story about the Christ child’s birth from the animals’ perspectives and, of course, a pageant. The children, dressed in makeshift costumes, portrayed Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels and the Wise Men as Grenfell read the Nativity story from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.
About half the 15 or 16 children who took part in the pageant regularly attend the church, said Tiffany Twitchell, who helped organize it.
“We’ve spent the past couple of Sundays talking about what we would be doing and practicing singing the songs,” said Twitchell, who teaches Sunday school. “We had a run-through just before the service with them but the other half of the kids just came tonight with their parents to visit and took parts. That was wonderful.”
Katie King, 9, of Seal Harbor portrayed an angel. She came to church with her grandparents, who live in Orono. Even though she was new to the part, she had a strong feeling for the role.
“The angel told Mary she was going to have the baby who would be Jesus,” the girl said as she got ready to leave the church. “And, she spoke to the shepherds and told them to go visit the baby and she told Joseph that he should marry Mary. She had a pretty important job.”
Jose Cordero, 33, of Orono grew up attending the Church of Universal Fellowship but has not been attending recently. Seeing his 3-year-old son, Luis Cordero, don a multicolored cape, sport a crown and carry a gift to the Christ child had him thinking about returning.
“This is the first time my son has been here,” Jose Cordero said as the boy played hide-and-seek with other children who were in the pageant. “This is a great, progressive, open congregation, and this is just an example of that.
“My family and I were so proud,” he continued. “We were sitting on the front row and we were all crying. Now, he’s making friends, so I’m hoping to be more active here.”
Last year was the first since Grenfell was hired five years ago that the church has offered a children’s service. It was such a success, it was decided to make it an annual event, as the 7 p.m. service of Lessons and Carols has been for years.
“This helps the children own the story,” Grenfell said as shepherds, angels and Wise Men rushed past her. “The kids have gotten into it much more this year than last. So, it has become a tradition.”