The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Local News

December 26, 2012

Chrismon trees usher in spirit at Howard


TARBORO — Two 15-foot tall trees are on opposite sides of the pulpit in Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church sanctuary. Church parishioners decorated the huge evergreens with mostly handmade ornaments.

They call them Chrismon Trees.

Daylight from the church’s stained glass windows shine on the trees and create a radiant glow on the gold and white ornaments. Decorating the trees are a 50-year tradition that some members say ushers in the Christmas spirit.

“When the trees are up, you know it is Christmas time,” said Nancy Whitehurst, who is in charge of decorating the trees. “It is hard work, but lots of fun. The congregation looks forward to seeing them.”

Chrismons are handmade monograms that depicts the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Crosses, doves and angels are just a few of the Chrismons that parishioners have made. Some of them are as old as the church’s tradition and very fragile. Two years ago, children of the church made white felt ornaments.

The tradition started with only one tree under the leadership of the late pastor, Bob Burns. Burns, who was an artist, made some of the ornaments that are still used today.

Burns’ widow, Shelia Cordle recalled his passion for the Chrismon Trees.

“Bob had seen them somewhere else and he brought it back to the church,” she said. “The church was interested and we have been doing it ever since. Bob  rejoiced seeing the trees.”

Burns’ idea evolved with only one tree. Recently the parishioners added a second tree. One tree is filled with ornaments that represents the Old Testament and the second, the New Testament.

During the initial phase, trees were 20 feet tall and came from property that belong to church members. Recent purchases came from Marrow-Pitt Ace Hardware store. The store owners Joe and Mears Pitt were given the task of finding two trees that were similar in appearance and size.

Interim pastor, Mark Diehl, who took over in February, heard the buzz about the trees when he took over. Ten months later, he now sees what the furor was all about.

“When I got here, everybody was still talking about the Chrismon Trees,” he said. “They all had wonderful stories. Therefore, I was looking forward to this Christmas. They are beautiful. They are a wonderful tradition and a teaching moment, too — it enhances our worship services. They are a meaning of the incarnation of Jesus coming into the world to address the needs of human beings.”

Diehl like the idea so much that he is making plans to making the Chrismon a year-round project in an effort to restore the fragile commodities and make new ones as well as teaching his parishioners their meanings along the way.

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