Columbia reverend puts spin on December services with Christmas movies

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 | 4:27 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Two weeks ago, the Rev. Steven E. Swope stepped up to the pulpit and turned on a projector.

A clip from the 1947 Christmas classic,  "Miracle on 34th Street," began to play.


Dec. 15 and 16: “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Dec. 22 and 23: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

Dec. 24: “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Susan Walker (played by Natalie Wood) is asking Kris Kringle for a house: "If you’re really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can’t, you’re only a nice man with a white beard like mother says.”

Swope, the pastor of Columbia United Church of Christ , picked up on Susan's doubt to deliver a spiritual message connected to the Christmas story.

"The mission of one is to prove he is Santa and restore human faith in Christmas; and the mission of Christ is to restore human faith in him," Swope said.

Swope is using Christmas films in December as the basis for his sermons — "Miracle of 34th Street," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

He calls the series, "Christmas at the Movies." 

"It takes an old familiar story and shines a new light on it," Swope said. "I share little insights from each movie. The anticipation and suspense of Christmas is reflected with scriptural ideas."

Swope has been pastor at Columbia United Church of Christ, 3201 I-70 Drive N.W.,  for 2 1/2 years. He moved to Missouri from Southern California where he was doing transitional ministry work.

Although he has done “Christmas at the Movies” messages before, this is the first time his Columbia church has been exposed to them.

“I have reworked it with local community issues, taking time to tailor the needs of this community,” Swope said.

“I’m using contemporary ideas and culture with something we all do: watch movies. I’m sharing what these movies say about us and how we grow through the story of Christmas.”

Members of the congregation seem to like the idea.

“I think it adds freshness to things,” member Jean Walker said.

“I like the use of the slide projector, it makes good use of media to show a message,” Connie Loveless said.

Swope said it gives him a chance to remember the real meaning of the season.

“Too often we get caught up in living life day to day, and we are tempted to be practical,” Swope said. “We lose faith in our models and our examples.

"Along comes this season that allows us to reconnect with dreams, faith and goals. Over and over the story of salvation is told.”

Saturday services are held at 5 p.m.; Sunday services take place at 10:30 a.m.  The Christmas Eve services will be at 4 and 7 p.m.

“Christmas is a wonderful time of year for people to explore faith and spirituality,” Swope said. “It’s an easy and painless time to ease into it when most people are going to church at this time of year anyway.” 

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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