Local church keeps Christmas caroling a lively tradition among members, community

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With all the songs about Christmas caroling, you would think that is what everybody still does. But it is a tradition that has rather faded over the years.

Luckily, a few people still hold fast to this custom, making hearts merry and bright. That is what La Mesa First United Methodist Church has been doing for the last 30 years.

This year on Sunday, Dec. 16 after the church service, the carolers, including several young people from the ages of six to 17, gathered for a lunch of homemade chili in the fellowship hall.

With all the songs about Christmas caroling, you would think that is what everybody still does. But it is a tradition that has rather faded over the years.

Luckily, a few people still hold fast to this custom, making hearts merry and bright. That is what La Mesa First United Methodist Church has been doing for the last 30 years.

This year on Sunday, Dec. 16 after the church service, the carolers, including several young people from the ages of six to 17, gathered for a lunch of homemade chili in the fellowship hall.

Afterwards, they separated into carpool groups to sing for church members who are shut-ins or living at retirement homes, no longer able to get out much.

The look on the faces of people who were visited by the carolers brought home the meaning of Christmas for everyone.

Church member Derek Wilton has been doing this for ten years.

“I like to join in because it helps to get me into the Christmas spirit and we are often singing to people I have known for many years,” he said.

Wilton said that the carolers always look forward to the camaraderie of singing to the homebound, even bringing small gifts for them. This year, Wilton handed out wrapped gingerbread men cookies made by one of the Friendship Groups of the church.

One year while caroling to a church member, Wilton remembers the people across the hall heard them and opened their door.

“It was a couple that I have known since I was a child,” he said. “That made the singing even sweeter. Another time our caroling group got lost in a retirement complex so we just went to the group room and entertained them. A few people even joined in the singing.”

Eric Dewey-Hoffman has enjoyed this caroling tradition with La Mesa First United Methodist Church since it began 30 years ago.

“The people we sing to frequently feel isolated,” he said. “Our Caring Ministry group stays in touch with and visits home bound members throughout the year. Christmas caroling is an extension of this ministry. The joy I see when they open the door to familiar faces and hear us sing makes it truly feel like Christmas.”

All of this joy-making does not come easy, however. Jill Coady, choir director at La Mesa Methodist Church, began directing the caroling a few years ago and discovered how much cooperation and work it took to pull it off.

But it has been worth it.

She recalls a time when the carolers visited a long-time church and choir member, Bob Conger, at La Vida Real. He had finally had to give up singing in the choir a years before because of his decline from Alzheimer’s.

“I knew in advance that he might not recognize us, but this was a really important visit because of his many years of participation in the choir,” Coady explained.

Caroling benefits the carolers themselves, too, Coady explained. “When you visit these people, you realize how important the visits are on personal level. As you sing the words to the carols you are reminded of the stories we hear at church and the religious aspect of the season come to mind. I am always centered and brought back to the importance of religion, friendships and community in my life as we go out and share with others.”

As wonderful as the caroling tradition, it has lessened in popularity over the years.

“It seems like caroling has become a rare and under-appreciated Christmas event,” said Wilton.

Coady agreed.

“Society has changed,” she said. “The days of going across the street and knocking on your neighbor’s door to visit and have a cup of coffee without notice are gone. The days of knowing all your neighbors has passed because we move around more.”

That hope is brought forth in young people participating. In this way, they are taught the importance of caring for the elderly.

“Once you experience this, you realize how valuable community is,” Coady said.

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