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Memories of the old Christmas play

[Ray Gora] Built in the mid-1940s and originally known as East Lincoln Tabernacle, this building, now called Faith Worship Center, is located at 638 Magnolia Street in Lincolnton.

Staff Writer
Lincoln County natives Rachel Bame and Mary Anne Burgess, both 1950s graduates of Lincolnton High School, can remember a time much simpler than the fast-paced days of today’s youth, particularly growing up as mill children near the Elm Grove Cotton Mill and participating together in their church’s first Christmas play.
“During that time, we were all more in to why we celebrate Christmas,” Burgess said, “and everyone had Bibles in their homes.”
Burgess and Bame both dressed as angels in the first East Lincoln Tabernacle Christmas play. The nondenominational church, built in the mid 1940s in Lincolnton, boasted a modest congregation size of less than 40 people, Burgess said.

Her father, Rev. Charlie Brewington, was the church’s first full-time pastor and served the church at least two decades.

Burgess described the tabernacle, with no electricity, little heat and floors made of dirt shavings, as the “little church in the wild wood.”
“It was just a shell, and we loved it,” she said.
The church served as one of the most exciting places for the mill children to gather each week.
“It was a big deal to go to church back then because you got to see all your friends and dress up,” Bame said.
For the first Christmas play, the children were given a unique opportunity to showcase their talents.
“The adults stood back and came when we were ready,” Burgess said. “We had fun.”
The children used sheets fashioned together with safety pins as their stage curtain, Burgess stated in a brief memoir she submitted to the Times-News about the Christmas play.
She was also in charge of crafting the children’s angel wings, which she designed from her mother Annie’s angel statue.
“I freehanded them and cut out a pattern from a cardboard box,” she said.
Bame added that they painted the wings with white shoe polish and trimmed them with silver tinsel.
Her brother also participated in the play that special night, shining a flashlight down on the child actors from the church loft.
All the children were under 10 years old, and the only adult who performed was the preacher, Bame said.
After several area churches, one of which included Iron Station’s Pearl Baptist Church, heard about the tabernacle’s memorable reenactment of the nativity story, they invited the children to put on the play for their congregations, too.
Burgess also reminisced in her memoir about how the Christmas carols that night echoed “through the old, unpainted walls” of the small, wooden white church, and the mill children shared “giggles of excitement” just before taking the stage.
Following the performance, each child received a small goodie bag filled with candy.
“And maybe an orange and apple” Bame said.
She also described how her family did a similar tradition each Christmas Eve with her dad’s hats.
“He would save them and put them all under the tree and put fruit and candy in there,” Bame said.
Christmas wasn’t the only time the mill children’s inventive imaginations united; their closeness and creative activities also extended to everyday life as they often gathered, each with a stick, to march down their dirt road. The girls also sported their fashionable Majorette Boots with tassels, Bame told the Times-News laughingly.
“We created our own entertainment,” she said. “It was like one, big happy family.”
Several decades later, the holiday play and childhood memories made around the mill remain seared in both women’s minds.
“We never had much excitement because we never had much money to have excitement,” Bame said. “It (the play) made us feel important.”
Her father owned the church property until he passed away; today, the deed is in her name.
No longer called East Lincoln Tabernacle, the “little church in the wild wood” continues to draw people every Sunday morning and evening.

Image courtesy of Ray Gora

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