Religions and Spirituality

Interfaith Christmas Concert Benefits Food Pantry

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Debbie Burns (left), music director at Immaculate Conception Church and Ruth Erlich, pianist at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Annandale, in rehearsal of 'Hallelujah Chorus.' Credits: courtesy photo
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Alia Wimmer of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, updates concert participants about food drive efforts before distributing grocery bags to fill. Looking on is her mom, Renaye Wimmer. Credits: courtesy photo
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Children and adults of Immaculate Conception Church get ready for rehearsal by warming up their voices - and their bodies - led by ICC music director Debbie Burns. Credits: courtesy photo
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Children and adults of Immaculate Conception Church get ready for rehearsal by warming up their voices - and their bodies - led by ICC music director Debbie Burns. Credits: courtesy photo
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Lower Valley Presbyterian Church in Califon organist Don Scafuri and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Annandale pianist Ruth Erlich rehearse 'O Holy Night.' Credits: courtesy photo
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CLINTON TWP., NJ – Thanksgiving is a time for gathering together. That’s especially true for those at Immaculate Conception Church here, where for the seventh year, an interfaith Christmas Concert inspires in more ways than one.

Although the concert will be held Sunday, Nov. 26, planning began during the summer. The goal goes beyond the music; it’s for many faiths to join to help Open Cupboard Food Pantry in Clinton fill its shelves.

Last year, the organizers collected nearly 5,000 pounds of food at the door. They hope to break that record this year.  

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The program intersperses scripture readings and musical numbers to tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is narrated by clergy from the various participating churches.  

Although the concert is a tradition, there are always those for whom it will be a new experience. That includes ICC’s new pastor, Monsignor William Benwell.

“I’m very much looking forward to my first experience of the Interfaith Christmas Concert and very proud that Immaculate Conception Parish will again be hosting it,” the monsignor said.  “Absolutely central to the Judeo-Christian tradition is concern for those in physical and spiritual need. It’s beautiful that so many faith communities will come together to praise our God ... but even more beautiful will be a vestibule overflowing with food for those in our area who desperately need it.”

Faith Chapel Wesleyan is one of the newer churches to participate.

“The people of Faith Chapel Wesleyan are truly excited to be involved with this tremendous event,” said Rev. Bonnie Eastlack. “We are using this opportunity to show God's love in our community through our giving and by sharing our music. Our worship team and one of our college students will be joining many other talented musicians.”

Marylu Korkuch is the Music Ministry Director at ICC, and she says the event amazes her every year. Even though it’s one of the busiest times of the year for many people, they “plan, rehearse and perform solely for the benefit of the community,” she said. It’s an example of volunteerism and the proverbial “Golden Rule” at work.

“Through the generosity of concert attendees and participants, we are able to fill the shelves of the Open Cupboard Pantry and help area residents who are food insecure,” Korkuch said. “Our parish motto is: ‘Together we can do great things for God.’,” she said. “One only need to experience this concert to see, and feel, and hear that motto in action.”

In addition to ICC’s own adult and children’s choir, the program includes adult, teen and children’s choirs from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Annandale; members of  Clinton’s Church of the Nazarene performing with the ICC choir and a soloist performing What Child Is This?; the organist from Lower Valley Presbyterian Church in Califon; Annandale Reformed Church’s adult choir; the bell choir from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Washington Township; Faith Chapel Wesleyan Church, Annandale’s adult choir and teen soloist Christianna Pepingco performing “O Holy Night”; local teen music sensation and ICC parishioner John Paciga performing, “Mary Did You Know?”; and ICC parishioner Kevin Gray singing the Tony Bennett classic, “A Child Is Born.”

The Hunterdon Harmonizers will debut a new arrangement of the Calypso carol, “Mary’s Boy Child.” A youth choir comprising children from many faiths will sing two new songs: “Christmas Bells” and “Joseph’s Song.”

In keeping with tradition, the concert will conclude with all participants singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Christmas Oratorio “Messiah.”

The concert starts at 5 p.m. and will conclude by 6:45 p.m.; light refreshments follow. Admission is free, but attendees are encouraged to bring a bag of canned or non-perishable food for the Open Cupboard Pantry.

Immaculate Conception Church is located at 316 Old Allerton Road here, on the edge of Annandale. For more information visit its Facebook page.

The concert planning committee includes Korkuch and Debbie Burns, music ministry directors at ICC; and Renaye Wimmer and Kim Thompson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Annandale.

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