Texas Church Contest Begins This Weekend

A unique retelling of the true story of Christmas returns for the Panhandle region to enjoy this year in a small community named Jesus’ hometown.

the Nazareth Christmas Contest 22nd Anniversary Production will take place at 7:30 p.m. every Sunday and Monday evening in the historic Catholic Church of the Holy Family in Nazareth.

The tradition of the competition makes the Church of the Holy Family a place to intimately experience Christmas and all its meaning through a story told with sumptuous costumes, lighting and music.

The 2021 competition will mark the passing of the torch as cast, choir and crew pay tribute to the late Sharon Brockman, who served as choir director for many years and played a role in every competition until 2019, and Gladys Fortenberry, who for many years coached the narrators and readers of the production.

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Troy and Shelby Ramaekers as Joseph and Mary represent the Holy Family as they return from Egypt to Nazareth.  Young Jesus is played by Jack Wanjura.

Maddie Brockman, granddaughter of Sharon Brockman, will play the piano in this year’s production, while Alan Birkenfeld descended from the risers where he sang tenor with his brothers to serve as choirmaster.

“Two of the songs the choir will perform in the prelude this year will be Sharon and Gladys favorites, as a special tribute from the choir to them,” said co-director Lisa Schulte.

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Almost half a century after its first performance in 1972, members of the Holy Family Church spanning several generations stage the Pageant. Seating in the church is allocated on a first come basis for benches that can accommodate just over 700 people, so it is advisable to arrive early. There is no admission fee, although offerings of love are accepted.

With life in Nazareth revolving around the Church of the Holy Family in a community that has its roots in Irish and German Catholic settlers dating back to 1902, it is no surprise that several generations of all ages in this named community according to the Galilean hometown of Jesus Christ are dedicated to presenting the Christmas Contest. It is a representation of the birth and childhood of Christ.

Derrick Schacher, Mason Kleman and Matthew Olvera star as the Three Kings in this year's Nazareth Christmas Pageant and wear costumes dating from the early days of the presentation.

Over 100 residents of the village of just over 300 make the presentation of the contest to visitors a source of community pride and common purpose.

A series of 14 scenes accompanied by 14 songs, some of which are written by members of the ward, present in a lavishly costumed but charmingly simple manner the true story of Christmas, illustrating a progression of events.

Scenes of pantomime, narration and music range from the Annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel in the Galilean village of Nazareth through the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, the appearance of an angelic host to shepherds huddled around a campfire, a visit to the splendid costumed magi adorned with robes made from priestly clothes and communion railing fabric, the spooky search for male children by uniquely costumed soldiers carrying spears and lanterns, the resulting flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, and their eventual return to Nazareth, where Jesus spent his childhood.

The locally written pageant was first produced in 1972. It was played intermittently 16 times from 1972 to 1994, then languished in an extended hiatus until 2009, when it was relaunched with performances until. ‘in 2015. Pageant co-directors Lisa Schulte and Nicole Schulte were instrumental in relaunching the production in 2009 after it lay dormant for 15 years. Everyone felt obliged to restore production so that the new generations could benefit from it. The historical spectacle was revived when residents of the community realized that a generation of young people here had grown up without experiencing it.

The co-directors who helped bring the Christmas pageant back to Nazareth are Nicole Schulte, left, and Lisa Schulte.  Both were instrumental in relaunching production in 2009 after it lay dormant for 15 years.

After another three-year hiatus, the 21st anniversary performances took place in 2019 and this year marks the 22nd production.

Nazareth’s first Christmas contest in 1972 brought to life the idea of ​​late Father Stanley Crocchiola, a beloved former pastor, that Nazareth should share a Christmas contest with the Panhandle. Father Stanley worked with the late Donna Benke Birkenfeld, a talented writer and musician. Father Stanley wrote a screenplay and worked with Mrs. Birkenfeld to select the music. Ms. Birkenfeld composed two of the songs that are an integral part of the pageant, the frightening “Soldier Search” which accompanies an audience foray into the audience of beefy soldiers in search of innocent children, and “Magnificat”. Noreen Kleman Carson, who conducted the fifth through eighth contests, wrote the music “Chosen by God”.

Father Stanley’s art students painted backdrops to depict a temple, open fields outside Bethlehem with shepherds, and Bethlehem’s humble manger. The late Ernie and Florine Brockman coordinated the participants, costumes, dressmakers, electricians, lighting, fundraising and publicity for the original contest. Jerome Brockman was an early props manager. Over the years, generations of parish families have composed choirs and musicians, set and lighting teams, costume designers, carpenters, welders, electricians, actors and storytellers in the manner of the people of the farm.

While the Pageant was held annually from 1972 to 1982, the grueling effort required for production resulted in it being run on and off from 1984 to 1994, and after the 15-year hiatus, year-round performances. alternately were adopted from 2009 to 2015, with a sabbatical year in 2017. This Christmas season is an “active” year for production.

Music, pantomime and narration intertwine to tell the story, enhanced by the lighting emitted by slide projectors filtering the light through slides made of washers that dictate the size of the light spot. Hand-crafted costumes and stages created by talented hometown artists and artisans move the story forward. A good number of scenes include hosts of angel children with sparkling wings. Many of the women who work on this year’s competition have depicted angels in their childhood.

From the moment the lights inside the Church of the Holy Family go out and the opening chords of the organ in the choir gallery sing “welcome, welcome, child of Bethlehem, welcome to the Newborn King ”, guests of the Nazareth Christmas Show are sure to feel the kindness and warmth of this unique retelling of the Christmas story.

Chloe Birkenfeld, whose late grandfather, Herman, was renowned for his skill on the violin, honors the Nazareth Christmas Competition with her skill on the violin.  Here she is playing with Angela Fulkerson in the background.

At the heart of the historical re-enactment is touching music performed by talented voices from the community of Nazareth.

Organist Mary Lynn Olvera has performed in nearly every competition, and Angela Fulkerson, also a competitor in many competitions, provides backing flute music. Chloe Birkenfeld, whose grandfather, Herman, was renowned for his skill on the violin, honors the competition with her skill on the violin.

The sopranos include Vera Huseman, Kathy Birkenfeld, another veteran of all competitions, Katherine Fulkerson, Dolores Heiman, the oldest active member of the choir, Angie Hochstein and Lisa Schulte.

Second sopranos include Nicole Schulte, Jeanie Birkenfeld, Lindsey Brockman, Teresa Sewell and Mary Beth Gerber.

Darlene Schulte, Beverly Schulte, Mona Schulte, Katy Schulte, Karleen Hoelting, Lacey Hoelting and Dawn Ramaekers perform as violas.

Tenors include Carl Huseman, Lester Womack, Keith Birkenfeld, Darryl Birkenfeld, JC Pohlmeier. And Matt Birkenfeld. Bassists are Rex Ramaekers, Dwayne Kleman, Keith Hoelting, Steve Buckley, Marvin Schmucker, Paul Wayland and Gregg Gerber.

Cast members include Troy and Shelby Ramaekers as Joseph and Mary. The infant Jesus is played by Leo Huseman and the older Jesus is played by Jack Wanjura. Lesly Annen plays Elizabeth. Zecharia is played by Hugh Durbin. The Innkeeper is played by Mac Annen and Simeon is played by David Olvera. As Herod is Shane Ethridge, and Ordinary Men are played by Spencer Acker and Dayson Schacher. The Three Kings are played by Derrick Schacher, Matt Olvera and Mason Kleman. Braden Wethington, Landon Schulte, Tyson Schulte, Bradley Gerber and Alec Braddock play the menacing soldiers in the spooky scene from Soldier Search, while the terrified women fleeing the soldiers with their children include Macee Huseman, Karen Wanjura, Kristin Braddock, Kim Schulte, and Grace Huseman.

Angels include Brynlee Schilling, McKinley Moore, Autumn Birkenfeld, Kaylin Acker, Wylie Braddock, Mackenzie Wilhelm, and Emery Brockman.

Hosts of the acolytes include Luke Schulte, Callen Hochstein, Steeley and Emerson Moore, Addie Birkenfeld, Samantha and Michael Fulkerson, Kennedy Wilhelm, Rhett Ethridge, Kamre, Charly and Braeli Mask, Jett McLarty, Oren and Sy Welps, Malory Wilhelm, Sara and Anna Prins, Jett and Riley Ramaekers, Addie Schulte, Iris Schilderink, Kattey Gerber, Collin and Caleb Kimball, Noah and Olivia Raef, Tanner and Jentri Birkenfeld, Harper Johnson, Adalyn Braddock, Kate Brockman, Connor Acker and Dayne Schulte.

Senior members of the lighting team are Jim Hoelting, Ralph Brockman and Julius Birkenfeld.

Readers include Ryan and Diane Heitschmidt, Dwight Acker, Joe Hochstein, Derwin Huseman, Stephanie DeMoss, John and Jack Welps, Mark Kleman, John Fulkerson and Joel Gerber.

Clients include Cynthia Schulte, Jolene Schulte, Kim Birkenfeld, Vera Hoelting, Rita Hoelting, Sandra Kleman, Missy Kleman and Klynn Gerber.

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