Richland church's singing tree heads into season

RICHLAND -- It's sounds and light from floor to ceiling this week at the First Baptist Church in Richland. The Living Christmas Tree is back.

Music director Dan Nelson was leading a rehearsal Sunday evening of singing heads dotting the tree in the church's auditorium.

Actually, about 25 people were standing on wooden platforms built so only their faces pop out of the branches of a 18-foot-tall, fully decorated and lit Christmas tree.

The Living Christmas Tree has been presented every three years for the past 15 or so years, said Patty Nelson, Dan Nelson's wife, who helps narrate the program. The church plans to make it an annual event from now on.

Tami Montgomery, 38, is one of the two highest-placed singers in the tree. She has been participating in the Christmas program at the church for many years, she said. Her two daughters, aged 9 and 11, also will be performing in the holiday show -- but they will not be in the tree.

Montgomery said she cannot remember anyone ever falling or tripping while in the tree. But she does get a little nervous up there sometimes.

"Once in a while there might be a panic moment about the lyrics, but it always comes out fine," Montgomery said.

She said she can make out the smiles on the faces of audience from high up in the tree.

"Then I always look for family."

'The singers have been rehearsing the music since August. Dan Nelson said everything goes pretty smoothly during the shows, but it gets hot in the tree with the lights hanging around the singers and spotlights beaming from above.

And there are a few tricks. Everyone must appear to be the same height, so there are wooden lifts bolted to the inside flooring of the tree for the shorter singers.

Before the rehearsal started Sunday, Nelson led a prayer and then quickly turned from pastoring to directing.

"Relax and go with the flow," he told the group. "Let's do what we do."

Not only are there live singers in the tree, but the tree lights are set to the music's rhythm, at times giving the sense of being at a rock concert.

The singers are strong and the music fills the auditorium at First Baptist. And a few of the Christmas songs have fresh arrangements. This isn't your grandmother's Joy to the World.

The public is welcome to the free performances at the church, 1107 Wright Ave. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 Sunday morning.

There is child care available for children 3 and younger.

For more information go to www.thefirstfamily.net. Call 509-943-8421 or 509-946-1505 for reservations.