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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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December 6, 2010

ELCA chaplain to bless national tree

Darrell D. Morton, assistant for federal chaplaincy ministries to the presiding bishop of the ELCA, will present the invocation at the 87th National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Thursday, Dec. 9, in Washington.

This year’s tree lighting ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. EST on the Ellipse, between the National Mall and the White House. According to the National Christmas Tree website, the event will be broadcast on PBS-TV across the country. It will be rebroadcast in certain cities later in the month, and the event will be available online.
    
The National Christmas Tree is a project of the National Park Foundation, the charitable arm of the National Park Service. President Calvin Coolidge turned on the lights for the first National Christmas Tree in 1923.
    
“I got an e-mail from the National Park Foundation asking me if I would do it,” Morton said, adding that Bishop James “Jay” Magness, suffragan for federal chaplains, The Episcopal Church, recommended him.
    
Morton, a retired military chaplain and U.S. Air Force colonel, said he has presented the invocation at similar events in the past, but nothing on this scale. President Obama and his family are expected to attend, along with an estimated 17,000 people, Morton said. Musical performances are also part of the program.
    
Morton said his prayer will ask for God’s guidance and wisdom in caring for those who are hungry, homeless or living in poverty, as well as petitions for military personnel who are serving overseas and can’t be home for Christmas. Organizers have asked him to keep his prayer to one minute or less, he said.
    
With ELCA synod bishops and congregations, Morton helps support about 70 ELCA active duty military chaplains, including five military chaplains now serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. He and others also support 130 ELCA military chaplains with reserve and National Guard forces, and about 60 chaplains who serve in federal prisons or Veterans Administration facilities.
    
Morton’s appointment is especially significant because of the Lutheran connection with the Christmas tree tradition. According to legend, Martin Luther, whose writings helped spark the Protestant Reformation, is among those credited with the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. Luther’s role in Christmas tree decorating dates back to about 1500, when he was said to have been struck by the beauty of a small group of evergreens as he walked through snow-covered woods one Christmas Eve.

“Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth,” according to the Christmas Tree Farm website.

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