By Kara Witherow, Editor
Rev. Barry Giddens loves Christmas.
Each year he and his three boys – Maddux, 11, Paxton, 9, and Lennox, 7 – cheerfully channel their inner Clark Griswold and decorate their home for the holidays with their thousands of lights, more than 100 inflatables, and various other Christmas decorations.
To the Giddens family, lights, as Paxton said, “represent Christmas.”
This year, however, they are in a new-to-them parsonage in Savannah. The homeowners’ association prefers understated décor, Rev. Giddens said, so he had to tame his décor tendencies and find a new use for his multitude of lights and collection of inflatables.
That’s when a (twinkly, multicolor, LED, Christmas) light went off in his head. White Bluff United Methodist Church doesn’t have an HOA. The church sits in a prominent location, at the end of Truman Parkway near Abercorn Street. And the congregation wants to reach out to the community.
“Keeping in mind that we want to minister from our strengths, I asked what the church can do well and what we can thrive in,” said Rev. Giddens, who serves as senior pastor. “One of the things I thought about, easily, were the Christmas lights.”
His idea, the Savannah Christmas Light Extravaganza, was warmly embraced by the congregation. A nightly event that would make even the grinchiest of folks jolly, it launched Dec. 6 and runs from 6-9 p.m. through Dec. 23.
The church – now decorated with 15,000 to 20,000 lights – can easily be seen from busy Truman Parkway. Around the sanctuary, faith-themed nativities and inflatables are displayed. The education wing features secular decorations and inflatables like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Frosty the Snowman, and Buddy the Elf. A sleigh sits nearby for photos, and an eight-seat barrel train, made by Rev. Giddens out of 55-gallon metal drums, is pulled by a volunteer driving a John Deere tractor. Santa’s even been spotted on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Everyone loves Christmas lights, Rev. Giddens said, and the Savannah Christmas Light Extravaganza is a way White Bluff UMC can serve the community and be a visible, welcoming presence in Savannah.
“The lights give people a vision of White Bluff even if they never come inside or drive into the parking lot,” he said. “They know we’re here and we’re here to serve the community.”
While lights and decorations are pretty and fun to look at, they serve a deeper meaning for Rev. Giddens and his family, and he hopes visitors leave White Bluff UMC’s Savannah Christmas Light Extravaganza with an understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.
“While I’ve always had a little Clark Griswold in me, these lights also represent the light of Christ in the world. People, whether they are Christian or not, love Christmas lights. Lights are a gateway to invite people who may not know Christ into our homes and our church and they’re a chance for us to take something that is secular and impart Christ into that.”