Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 13, 2012

Christmas comes alive at Unity Baptist

Church puts in Irish-inspired performance

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — Those who enjoy the Living Christmas Tree at Unity Baptist Church as part of their holiday traditions will find this year’s program filled with family and inspired by Ireland.

Dr. Floyd Paris, pastor, who wrote the script for this year’s program, said the story combines local scenes and draws upon his own somewhat comical experiences.

“This year the story revolves around the Smith family,” he said, describing the fictional family as typical Americans with hectic holiday schedules and no strong sense of Christmas tradition. “But, this Christmas is different. Mr. Smith’s boss has been transferred from Houston to Ashland and he’s been invited over for Christmas Eve dessert, and Mrs. Smith’s father from Ireland makes a surprise visit — his first in 16 years. And, there is some tension between the father and daughter. He reminds her of her culture and heritage ... and the real meaning of Christmas.”

Paris, who enjoys a gift for dialect and accents, was first exposed to the Irish brogue during his first mission trip nearly 25 years ago.

“When you’re surrounded by that accent for a period of time, it just seems to sink in and get under your skin,” he said, slipping effortlessly into a flawless Irish accent as he recalled his adventures in Northern Ireland. The lilting language skills remained with Paris and he said he could not resist the urge to test his talk when he passed an Irish grill during a recent sabbatical to Florida.

“It goes to a funny story. I was down there praying and fasting and studying the Bible and I had promised someone some shark’s teeth,” Paris said, explaining he passed the Irish grill on his way back from a tourist shop and was greeted by a hostess trying to draw a crowd into the business with the prospect of meeting “a real Irishman.” As a lark, the local pastor responded in his own Irish accent and was surprised to find himself suddenly being introduced as the real deal. When he was offered an Irish beer, Paris said he declined by saying he wanted to try “something American” like a Coke or a Pepsi, and a hamburger.

“I decided to see how far I could go with it,” Paris said, noting his adopted accent even got past a true resident of Ireland.

“He said he could tell I was from Northern Ireland by my accent,” Paris said with a smile, recounting the exchange of information, including the self-assigned name Sean O’Connor.

The Irish experiences came into play when Sam Norrod, Unity Baptist’s minister of music, presented the pastor with two or three options for the 2012 Living Christmas Tree, including a Celtic-themed selection.

“He said, ‘If you go with this one I will write something,” Norrod said, noting the pastor’s choice of “A Celtic Christmas Celebration: Season of Joy” for the church’s 28th Living Christmas Tree production.

Paris said he believes the story has an important message.

“It teaches us that family is family and misunderstandings are often what separate us. Those misunderstandings are often simple, but compounded over the years,” he said. “Christmas is the time to bring families back together.”

With roughly 110 to 120 involved in the production, church officials are expecting excellent crowds. The church issues tickets for each performance, although there is no charge and those without tickets are never turned away, Paris said.

“It is a tradition for a lot of people,” Paris and Norrod agreed, noting many from other states attend the event each year. The Living Christmas Tree supports more than 50 choir members and features more than 30,000 lights individually programmed to synchronize with musical selections.

The production will be at 7 p.m. Friday through Monday, with a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday. For more information or tickets, call (606) 324-7157.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.