Rev. Max Zehner was filled with inspiration.
Two years ago, the pastor of First United Methodist Church in downtown Lafayette began bouncing ideas around with some friends and collegaues in the downtown area. The ideas focused on how the downtown community could do something more for the Christmas season than the traditional lighting of a Christmas tree and downtown parade.
“A group of us came together and brainstormed this possibility of having an event that was basically lessons in carols,” Zehner said. “We were thinking that is something that you might see in a traditional church service but what if we brought it to the community? What if we did it with the traditional carols and readings but brought in local musicians to put their spin on it. The idea really took off from there.”
That idea became Downtown Candlelight Christmas — a family-friendly night of Christmas readings and carols sponsored by FUMC and Downtown Lafayette. This year’s event will be held at PARC International starting at 6 p.m.
The first event was held last year and Zehner was surprised by the wealth of enthusiasm for the event.
“We had some surprising momentum honestly going into the first year of the event,” Zehner recalled. “We had great responses on social media and in the community. What hindered us was the threat of bad weather.”
That threat of inclement weather conditions forced FUMC and Downtown Lafayette to be proactive and relocate the event from Parc Sans Souci to inside the sanctuary of FUMC at 703 Lee Avenue.
Despite the venue change, and wintry weather, nearly 300 people showed up for the holiday event. This year the event has been moved to the much larger space of PARC International which has been decorated with 52 live Christmas trees. The venue isn’t the only thing that has grown substantially.
“Downtown Lafayette has really embraced the Christmas season with multiple events,” Zehner said. “Not only that but the event has been moved from the more intimate Parc Sans Souci into the larger Parc International but the people interested in the event has grown. As of Monday of this week, there were 4,200 people that were interested on Facebook.”
The event is free to the public, with free cups of hot coco available and candles given out to those in attendance. In addition to the event being held in a larger venue, there was also be a sign language interpreter, Lafayette High Principal Dr. Rachel Brown, there for those in attendance who are deaf.
Zehner is also excited about the number of local musicians that will be singing traditional Christmas carols.
“I am thrilled with the musicians this year,” Zehner said. “These are folks that you may not recognize their names but they are immensely talented. Some of them sing in their church choirs to people that lead worship in church settings to others who are musicians from the Acadiana area. When you put them all together they are really impressive.”
Not only is the event free but it will also serve as a way for those in attendance to give back to the community.
“We wanted to give an opportunity to give back this year,” Zehner explained. “We are embracing United Christian Outreach (which provides clothings, food and prescription expense assistance to residents). They are one of our few local food banks here in Acadiana. We encouraging people to come to this free event and bring non-perishable food items. Their shelves are depleted at this point and we want to do our part.”
For Zehner, the moment of Thursday night that will likely inspire him the most is how the Downtown Candlelight Christmas will conclude.
“At the end of the night, we are all going to light our candles and sing “Silent Night” together,” Zehner said. “I promise you that it is going to be a moving moment.”