'The best meds are children and music': New Milford church embraces virtual experience

The First Congregational Church, left, will offer a virtual holiday concert and children's Christmas pageant this year.

The First Congregational Church, left, will offer a virtual holiday concert and children’s Christmas pageant this year.

Deborah Rose / Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW MILFORD — Individuals and families have grown accustomed to virtual classes, work and even worship services.

The coronavirus pandemic has restricted in-person activities, especially those geared toward large groups of people, including worship.

The First Congregational Church in New Milford has embraced the virtual world. In fact, so much so, it is moving forward for virtual holiday events in an effort to keep the spirit of the season at the forefront.

“Our No. 1 concern is for people to be safe, and at same time, we are looking to have some hope and some joy,” said the Rev. Randy Day, interim pastor at the church.

“I know the vaccines are coming, but in the meantime, I think the best meds are children and music,” he said.

The church will present a virtual Christmas concert Dec. 13, with the link posted at 4 p.m. on the church website and Facebook page, as well as on YouTube.

In addition, a virtual Christmas pageant will be presented as the sermon Dec. 20 at 10 a.m.

“It’s a much-needed lift in such a troubled time,” said Doris Papp, a member of the church’s communication committee.

The church’s holiday offerings will include live stream worship Dec. 13 at 10 a.m. and the virtual Christmas concert; live stream worship and virtual Christmas pageant Dec. 20 at 10 a.m.; live stream Christmas Eve service Dec. 24 at 7 p.m. and a recording of the 7 p.m. service to air online at 8:30 p.m.; and live stream worship Dec. 27 at 10 a.m.

Christmas concert

Sarah Fay, the church’s music director, has been working for weeks with members of the church choir to rehearse and finalize production of the annual Christmas concert.

The choir has about 24 members but just under 20 participated in the virtual event, Fay said. Fay prepared recorded tracks for each song and made them available to members via Dropbox.

Members learned their parts at home and eventually recorded a video of themselves singing their parts, with the recorded tracks fed into an earpiece.

“It was a real learning experience,” Fay said. “It’s definitely not the same as singing together, but it’s definitely better than not singing at all.”

Each piece took 40 to 80 hours to complete, according to the musical director, whose husband, Chris, handled the technical aspects for the concert and pageant.

All the videos were edited and put into one master video.

Chris used creative license to add some special effects, too, Fay hinted, noting each song will have its own “little creative” feature.

“It’s been quite popular,” Fay said of the concert tradition that began more than 30 years ago. “It’s extremely well attended, not just by church members but my members of the community.”

The concert began as a joint effort between the First Congregational Church and Sherman Congregational Church, which took turns as host sites many years ago because “people wanted to make a gift for the community,” Fay related.

The New Milford church has carried on the tradition by itself in recent years.

Christmas pageant

The pageant, under the direction of Christian Ed Director Becky Passero, involves 27 children.

“It’s actually coming together really well,” Passero said. “It’s actually so much better than I could have anticipated.”

Passero divided the traditional nativity story into pieces based on the number of children who wanted to participate. The children were sent a script and asked to record their part.

“The kids did awesome,” Passero said of the videos she has received.

Chris Fay will string together the videos, which will be intermixed with past photographs of pageants and other children’s photos who wanted to participate but didn’t want to portray a character.

Some children picked up costumes from the church; others wore their “Sunday best,” Passero said.

“One family has a roaring fire in the background and another has a beautiful Christmas tree as their background,” the director said.

“it’s going to be so festive,” she said.

The link for the pageant will be posted on the church’s website and social media, and will be available for a few weeks.