When I was 13 years old I joined the youth choir of our small Methodist church. That very year the ambitious choir director announced that the adult and youth choirs would perform “Amahl and the Night Visitors” during the Christmas season. With my mediocre voice, I was relegated to the chorus of young shepherds. Stage blocking and practices ground on toward December until I wondered why I had ever signed up for the choir, but the director was adamant — we would perform, no matter what!
Costumes were scarce, and on dress rehearsal night I found myself clad in an old sheet with the flower edging tucked artfully out of sight. The choir director’s wife must have taken pity on me because she rushed over with a pin cushion and fashioned a decent shepherd’s headdress out of a pillow case. After many reruns of our tiptoed approach toward the baby in the manger, our warbling chorus was pronounced good, and we were sent home to await the performance the following night.
On opening night, our church glowed with candles in each arched window, the congregation packed the pews and our pastor beamed at the front of the altar rail. We shepherds were crammed into a side foyer with two mothers to hush our nervous giggles. Pinched into a corner and worried about our alto line that wobbled off and on key, I was feeling like the whole play was a big mistake. To make matters worse my pillowcase had slipped down around my ears and the pincushion lady was nowhere in sight.
Then, the foyer mothers were waving us forward. We began tiptoeing in earnest down the aisle toward the manger, singing of the baby, the star and the kings on their way. Suddenly I was no longer a 13-year-old girl in a little Southern church. I was a shepherd on the hills of Bethlehem; a star was shining; a baby was born. My heart filled with wonder and love for this gift of the Christ child right there that night. It still does.