November 28, 2012
ELCA congregation the star of Christmas Eve special
Hope Lutheran Church, Reading, Pa., is the site and inspiration for a nationally televised special on Christmas Eve (CBS, 11:30 ET/PT). One Christmas Story: People Rich in Spirit, a new production from Odyssey Networks, takes viewers to the heart of this small American city for a celebration that reflects the true meaning of the holiday season: hope and caring.
Hope, a beacon in Reading’s poorest neighborhood, offers a scene in which a diverse congregation gathers on Christmas Eve 2012 to share the joyful sounds of the season as performed by four local choirs and to hear the story of Christ's birth as told through Scripture.
In 2011, Reading was named the poorest city in the U.S. after it lost factories, jobs and population, amplified by the recession. Also in 2011, Odyssey Networks produced Faces of Poverty: Life at the Breaking Point. The documentary followed Mary Wolfe, Hope’s pastor, and three families as they struggled to make ends meet. According to the 2011 census, 41 percent of the 80,000 residents live below the poverty line.
This year’s Christmas special focuses on the town’s journey from the depths of poverty to “hope and renaissance.” The return to Reading special will feature a gathering of local families, providing shelter to the homeless, sharing a meal with the hungry and giving to those in need, said Mary Dickey, the networks’ vice president for communications.
The popular time slot on Christmas Eve was “an amazing offer for us,” said Eric Shafer, an ELCA pastor and senior vice president of Odyssey Networks. It will run 59 minutes and 20 seconds with no commercial interruptions. Four to 5 million people have watched past Christmas Eve CBS specials.