It's a good thing that it's the faithful climbing into the Living Christmas Tree at Winchester's Mt. Zion Christian Church, because prayer might come in handy.
To create two free community shows this weekend, 45 to 50 choir members will each climb a steep ladder, gently step across a zigzag of boxes then crouch on a 12-inch wide beam until they spring up, on cue, creating a living, singing Christmas tree.
"It's pretty amazing when you see it for the first time," said Whit Criswell, Mt. Zion's preaching minister. "You kind of just go, 'Wow.'"
When this year's choir practiced the tree-shaped structure for the first time, "they just went giddy," he said.
The Living Christmas Tree is not new, but the Dec. 14 and 15 Sing Joy community performances are a first for Mt. Zion. It's also the first time the tree has come to Clark County, although its been kicking around Central Kentucky for decades.
The steel truss that serves as the base of the tree was first used at Southland Christian Church more than 30 years ago, said Jim Farmer, worship minister at Mt. Zion who helped put the first living Christmas tree together at Southland.
From there, a tractor-trailer hauling the 20-foot-wide structure has traveled from Southern Acres Christian Church in Lexington to Bedford Acres Christian Church in Paris and now to Mt. Zion. Farmer has been along every step of the way.
There is nothing quite like the vision of the choir members rising in song through the tree structure, Farmer said. But putting on a performance with the Living Christmas Tree is not without challenges. For one, he said, it has to be reassembled every year, and the folks who made the markings that are supposed to make assembly go smoothly the next year often aren't around.
Also, Farmer said, for maximum effect choir members need to be between 5 feet, 11 inches and 6 feet tall. Shorter members stand on boxes to create the illusion of symmetry.
While the audience sees a spectacle, it is not so glamorous backstage, he said. "When the choir get in, they basically crawl into place," he said. "There is not a lot of room."
"They get pretty chummy," he said.
The three performances this weekend will include secular as well as religious music and a short skit.
From resurrecting the set to practice, ticket-taking and directing traffic, the performance takes a team effort.
The Living Christmas Tree performance is also a chance for Criswell's congregation of 270 to give back to the community, he said. Farmer's long experience will pay off with a memorable show, Criswell said: "His heart is in it, his passion is in it and it will be first-class."