Christmas in Nazareth: Texas village named for Jesus' hometown hosts pageant

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A chilling scene from the Nazareth Christmas Pageant is the search for male babies two years of age and under by order of the wicked King Herod. It is accompanied by original music by the late Donna Benke Birkefeld. Depicting menacing soldiers in this year's production of the Pageant are Bradley Gerber, Landon Schulte, Alec Braddock and Braden Wethington. Women terrified and seeking to protect their children at the approach of the soldiers include Grace Huseman, Kristin Braddock, Karen Wanjura and Macee Huseman.
A chilling scene from the Nazareth Christmas Pageant is the search for male babies two years of age and under by order of the wicked King Herod. It is accompanied by original music by the late Donna Benke Birkefeld. Depicting menacing soldiers in this year's production of the Pageant are Bradley Gerber, Landon Schulte, Alec Braddock and Braden Wethington. Women terrified and seeking to protect their children at the approach of the soldiers include Grace Huseman, Kristin Braddock, Karen Wanjura and Macee Huseman.

A unique telling of the real story of Christmas is back for the Panhandle area to enjoy this year in a little community named for the hometown of Jesus.

The 22nd anniversary production of the Nazareth Christmas Pageant will be staged at 7:30 p.m. each evening Sunday and Monday in the historic Holy Family Catholic Church in Nazareth.

The pageant tradition makes Holy Family Church a place to intimately know Christmas and all of its meaning through a story told with lavish costuming, lighting and music.

The 2021 Pageant will mark a 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 had a role in all of the Pageants through 2019, and Gladys Fortenberry, who for many years coached narrators and readers of the production.

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Portraying the Holy Family as they make their return to Nazareth from Egypt are Troy and Shelby Ramaekers as Joseph and Mary. The youthful Jesus is played by Jack Wanjura.
Portraying the Holy Family as they make their return to Nazareth from Egypt are Troy and Shelby Ramaekers as Joseph and Mary. The youthful Jesus is played by Jack Wanjura.

Maddie Brockman, granddaughter of Sharon Brockman, will be playing piano in this year’s staging, while Alan Birkenfeld has come down from the risers where he sang tenor with his brothers to serve as choir director.

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

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Nearly half a century after its first performance in 1972, members of Holy Family Church spanning multiple generations are enacting the Pageant. Church seating is on a first-come basis for the pews that accommodate just over 700, so arriving early is advised. There is no charge for admission, although love offerings will be accepted.

With life in Nazareth revolving around the Holy Family Church in a community that traces its roots to Irish and German Catholic settlers dating to 1902, it’s not surprising that multiple generations of all ages in this community named for Jesus Christ’s Galilean hometown pour themselves into presenting the Christmas Pageant. It’s a depiction of the birth and childhood of Christ.

Playing the role of the Three Wise Men in this year's Nazareth Christmas Pageant and adorned in costumes dating to the earliest days of the presentation are, from left, Derrick Schacher, Mason Kleman, and Matthew Olvera.
Playing the role of the Three Wise Men in this year's Nazareth Christmas Pageant and adorned in costumes dating to the earliest days of the presentation are, from left, Derrick Schacher, Mason Kleman, and Matthew Olvera.

Upward of 100 residents of the village of just over 300 make presenting the pageant to visitors a source of community pride and common purpose.

A series of 14 scenes accompanied by 14 songs, some of them written by parish members, present in a lavishly-costumed yet charmingly simple manner the real story of Christmas, depicting 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 by the splendidly costumed Wise Men adorned in robes made from priest vestments and communion railing cloth, the chilling search for male infants by uniquely costumed soldiers bearing spears and lanterns, the resultant flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, and their eventual return to Nazareth, where Jesus spent his boyhood.

The locally written Pageant was first produced in 1972. It was performed intermittently 16 times from 1972 to 1994, then languished in prolonged hiatus until 2009, when it was revived with performances through 2015. Pageant co-directors Lisa Schulte and Nicole Schulte played a vital role in reviving the production in 2009 after it had lain dormant for 15 years. Each felt a compulsion to restore the production for new generations to enjoy. The heirloom Pageant was revived when community residents realized a generation of youngsters here had grown up without experiencing it.

Co-directors who helped bring back the Nazareth Christmas Pageant are Nicole Schulte, left, and Lisa Schulte. Both played vital roles in reviving the production in 2009 after it had lain dormant for 15 years.
Co-directors who helped bring back the Nazareth Christmas Pageant are Nicole Schulte, left, and Lisa Schulte. Both played vital roles in reviving the production in 2009 after it had lain dormant for 15 years.

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

Nazareth’s first Christmas Pageant in 1972 brought to fruition a notion of the late Father Stanley Crocchiola, a well-loved former pastor, that Nazareth should share a Christmas Pageant with the Panhandle. Father Stanley worked with the late Donna Benke Birkenfeld, a gifted writer and musician. Father Stanley wrote a script, and worked with Mrs. Birkenfeld to select music. Mrs. Birkenfeld composed two of the songs that are an enduring part of the Pageant, the chilling “Soldier Search” that accompanies a foray into the audience by burly soldiers searching for innocent infants, and “Magnificat.” Noreen Kleman Carson, who directed the fifth through eighth pageants, wrote the music “Chosen by God.”

Father Stanley’s art students painted stage backdrops to depict a temple, open fields outside of Bethlehem harboring shepherds, and the humble manger site in Bethlehem. The late Ernie and Florine Brockman between them coordinated participants, costuming, seamstresses, electricians, lighting, funding, and advertising for the original pageant. Jerome Brockman was an early day prop manager. Through the years generations of parish families have composed choir and musicians, set and lighting crew, costumers, carpenters, welders, electricians, actors and narrators in the can-do manner of rural farm folk.

While the Pageant was staged annually from 1972 to 1982, the exhausting effort required for the production caused it to be performed intermittently from 1984 to 1994, and following the 15-year hiatus Alternating year performances were adopted from 2009 through 2015, with a year off in 2017. This Christmas season is an “on” year for the production.

Music, pantomime and narration intermingle to relate the story, enhanced by lighting emitted from slide projector spotlights filtering light through slides made of washers that dictate the size of the spot of light. Handmade costuming and scenes created by gifted hometown artists and craftsmen move the story along. A good many of the scenes include hosts of sparkly-winged child angels. Many of the women who are working on this year’s pageant portrayed angels in their childhood.

From the instant the lights inside Holy Family Church dim and the opening organ chords from the choir loft prompt voices singing “welcome, welcome, child of Bethlehem, welcome newly-born king,” guests at Nazareth’s Christmas Pageant are sure to feel the graciousness and warmth of this unique telling of the Christmas story.

Chloe Birkenfeld, whose late grandfather, Herman, was renowned for his skill on the fiddle, graces the Nazareth Christmas Pageant with her skill on the violin. Here she plays in company with Angela Fulkerson, in the background.
Chloe Birkenfeld, whose late grandfather, Herman, was renowned for his skill on the fiddle, graces the Nazareth Christmas Pageant with her skill on the violin. Here she plays in company with Angela Fulkerson, in the background.

At the heart of the Pageant is touching music performed by talented voices from within the Nazareth community.

Organist Mary Lynn Olvera has played in nearly all of the Pageants and Angela Fulkerson, also a participant in numerous pageants, provides accompanying flute music. Chloe Birkenfeld, whose grandfather, Herman, was renowned for his skill on the fiddle, graces the Pageant with her skill on the violin.

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

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

Performing as altos are Darlene Schulte, Beverly Schulte, Mona Schulte, Katy Schulte, Karleen Hoelting, Lacey Hoelting, and Dawn Ramaekers.

Tenors include Carl Huseman, Lester Womack, Keith Birkenfeld, Darryl Birkenfeld, J. C. Pohlmeier. And Matt Birkenfeld. Bass performers 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 child Jesus is played by Leo Huseman and older Jesus is played by Jack Wanjura. Lesly Annen portrays Elizabeth. Zecharia is portrayed by Hugh Durbin. The innkeeper is played by Mac Annen, and Simeon is portrayed by David Olvera. In the role of Herod is Shane Ethridge, and common men are portrayed by Spencer Acker ad Dayson Schacher. The three kings are played by Derrick Schacher, Matt Olvera, and Mason Kleman. Playing the menacing soldiers in the chilling Soldier Search scene are Braden Wethington, Landon Schulte, Tyson Schulte, Bradley Gerber, and Alec Braddock, 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.

Among the host of acolytes are 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.

Veteran lighting crew members 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.

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

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Christmas in Nazareth: Texas church pageant starts this weekend

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