SIKESTON - While the rest of us battle sweltering temperatures hoping for a break soon, several members of the Sikeston community recently threw on their most festive winter attire and gathered for a Christmas party.
Conducted Sunday, the annual event is designed to get members of the First Baptist Church's choir primed for the yearly Living Christmas Tree program. The songs for the performance are passed out as guests enjoy Christmas snacks and discuss plans for the upcoming event which they are all too aware is only four months away.
And along with the new music this year is a new face leading the pack. Michael Nickelson, now associate minister of music and worship leader, has stepped up to the plate, filling the shoes of longtime Living Christmas Tree director Mike Parker, who is minister of music and head of the music department. Parker will be over the hand bells and graded choir in the program.
The 33-year-old says he's ready for the challenge and excited about this year's program. "At our party we previewed the music and handed out song books and we had a really good time," he said, noting so far 60 members of the church have signed up to be on the tree which is an increase over previous years. "The book we're using is titled "Christmas Is Jesus" and it has some great songs in it."
The whole program will be revamped this year, he explained, starting with the beginning when before taking their places on the tree those singing will walk into the sanctuary throwing artificial snowballs. In addition, snow machines will be placed strategically in the sanctuary thanks to the creative efforts of church member Larry Carroll.
"Larry's going to do some new lighting and use a new laser machine for some great effects," Nickelson pointed out. "And there's going to be a new look for the tree but what it is exactly is a surprise."
Parker admits it's a strange feeling not directing the program this year after having done so for about 15 years in a row, but he said he is confident that Nickelson will do the job well.
"Sunday night at the Christmas party I was able to sit at a table with my wife and eat Christmas cookies and let him do the carrying on and waving of the hands," he joked. "It was nice. He has fresh new ideas and is going to blend the old with the new," Parker said.
"His new approach and style will be infused throughout the program. Michael is very talented, he has one heck of a tenor voice. He's bought the basic musical like I always did then he's added a snow medley and an extra Christmas song that's very upbeat. That Christmas tree is going to rock, we will have to have double security for the tree structure," he quipped.
"I am extremely excited about this year's production," said an energetic Nickelson. "This is an opportunity to show this town what we have available and to get some people in here who maybe don't go to church or who haven't gone in a while. It will be the same program, just presented differently."
Nickelson's not new to the directing scene though. He has directed Miner Baptist Church's Passion Play for years and said his interest in the music ministry dates back to when he was 16. "I love everything about directing things like this," he said. "This is my passion, I love doing cantatas, musicals, dramas... Whether you've come to the Living Christmas Tree in the past, or this will be the first time, you're going to enjoy this year's program. There's something in it for everyone."