Have faith: Christmas in West Tisbury

First Congregational Church fills December with Christmas festivities, and time for contemplation.

From left, March Anderson-Brookes, Nora Duncheva, Sofia Fisher, and Lilah York dance as angels at the West Tisbury Congregational Church Christmas Pageant. Mary is played by Lily Myers, and Joseph by Jack Marshard. - First Congregational Church

When it comes to the Christmas season, many folks head up-Island to West Tisbury, where they’ll find everything they need to get into the holiday spirit. Whether you’re interested in a new Christmas wreath, a chance to sing carols, or just a little time to relax during the hectic season, the First Congregational Church has it all covered.

I sat down with some members of the congregation last week to go over their busy December calendar, and I hope I have it straight, because there was a lot to take in.

First comes the Christmas Faire on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm. This is a popular fair, where a group of dedicated volunteers work for a week leading up to the event crafting dozens of wreaths, centerpieces, and other decorations.

Ruth Schaffner has years of memories from making wreaths for the Christmas Faire.

“Myra and Ray Houle taught me,” Ruth said. “That was around 1989, and we were new here. I thought it would be a good way to meet people.” Ruth and another wreath-making volunteer, Dinny Montrowl, told me about the time some years ago when they were making the giant eight-foot-in-diameter wreath that encircles the cross behind the pulpit of the church. There were a few newbies helping out that year, and when they raised the wreath to place it on the wall, it fell apart.

“All the greens fell out, and we had to do it all over again,” Dinny remembered.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Ruth said.

But the Christmas Faire offers more than greenery for sale. There’s the much-anticipated vintage jewelry table, gift baskets, raffles, and jam from all the summer strawberry, blueberry, and peach festivals for sale. And then there’s the vegetarian chili, white bean and chicken soup, and cornbread offered at noon.

The Christmas Faire is the warmup act for the rest of the month, but don’t forget your hat and gloves, because the church doors are open throughout the fair so the greens stay fresh.

After the last evergreen needle has been swept up, folks prepare for the Christmas concert with the church choir and the bell choir, directed by David Rhoderick, held Sunday, Dec. 18, from 3 to 5 pm. A highlight is sure to be Molly Conole conducting Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols.” There will be time to sing along with familiar carols as well. A reception follows, with cookies by candlelight.

But don’t forget the church’s bell choir performance on Friday, Dec. 9, from 5 to 6 pm, at the Harbor View Hotel as part of the traditional Christmas lighting of the Edgartown Lighthouse.

“I’ve heard a lot of bell choirs in my day,” retired interim pastor the Rev. Terry Newberry said, “but this one takes the cake.”

Perhaps the most loved of the church’s traditions is the Christmas pageant, featuring children from all over the Island, every Christmas Eve at 5 pm in the Agricultural Hall. It’s held there because more than 700 people attend every year, too many for the church to accommodate.

Libby Fielder is in charge of the pageant. “Any child can participate,” she said. “They don’t have to go to our church; they’re all welcome to be in the pageant.” She’ll be looking for children ages 5 to 12 to portray all the key players in the nativity scenes. “Sometimes we do sneak a baby in there,” Libby said. It’s a Christmas Eve service for the whole family, with Brian Weiland and family providing the music, and there will be another opportunity to sing along.

The deadline to sign up for the pageant is Dec. 9, so call Libby at 508-684-8086 for more information.

Besides the pageant, there is a traditional 10 pm Christmas Eve service at the church, with lessons and carols.

In case all this activity — and your Christmas card list and last-minute gift buying and the cookies still to bake — start to wear you down, the Rev. Newberry recommends taking an hour midweek to attend the Evensong service from 5:30 to 6:30 pm on the three Wednesdays leading up to Christmas, beginning Dec. 7.

“This is designed to help us escape the chaos of Christmas,” he said.

“Let me read you something from one of our hymns: ‘Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.’”

Another thing to look forward to in December is the return of the church’s pastor, the Rev. Cathlin Baker. She’ll come home from her four-month sabbatical in Scotland to take up the pulpit again on Sunday, Dec. 11, just in time to herald the season.

As Libby Fielder put it, “This is the spiritual side of Christmas up-Island.”


If calming your inner voice is on your to-do list before Christmas, you might be interested in visiting the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center in West Tisbury this weekend. Lama Tsony will lead teaching on Shamar Rinpoche’s “Boundless Awakening: The Heart of Buddhist Meditation” from 10 am to noon and from 2 to 4 pm both Saturday, Nov. 26, and again on Sunday, Nov. 27. The sessions are for those just beginning meditation and those who are more experienced. Call 508-696-5929 for more information.


The Festival of Wreaths at the Federated Church in Edgartown takes place Thursday, Dec. 1, from 5 to 7 pm; everyone is welcome to come, and there is no admission charge. There will be homemade wreaths made of natural elements, an auction, raffle, and wine and hors d’oeuvres. Some of the auction items include dinner for 12 at your home, champagne and lobster rolls on the porch overlooking Lagoon Pond, an overnight sail on a 40-foot Swan sailboat with meals included, and a week at a summer home on the Vineyard. The $5 raffle tickets will be for a $200 gift certificate from Net Result, and a large decorated wreath. Proceeds benefit the historic Mayhew parsonage. For information, call the Federated Church at 508-627-4421.


Advent begins Nov. 27, the season of anticipation in the Christian tradition. I remember my children eagerly opening up the little paper door on the advent calendar that hung on our refrigerator. They did this every morning until Christmas finally arrived, taking turns and trying to figure out who would get to open the last little door. Some traditions are worth keeping.