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The Light of Christmas shines in Grandville

Christmas lights display

A one-of-a-kind Christmas light display at Grandville UMC creatively presents the story of Jesus’ birth as good news to the community.

Grandville United Methodist Church pastor Ryan Wieland had a bright idea — lit by 6,000 twinkling, multicolored lights.

“It has been a dream of mine for 10 years or so,” Wieland said, “but all the pieces came together this year.”

“The Light of Christmas,” a 15-minute holiday light show synced to music, will dance across the east side of Grandville UMC from 5 to 9 pm every night from Advent through Epiphany, January 6. The church is located at 3140 Wilson Avenue SW, in the heart of Grandville.

“The goal is to share the good news of Christmas with people in a season that has become overrun with other narratives,” Wieland noted. “It’s a gift from the church to the community.”

Christmas light displays have always been popular with Pastor Ryan and his family. Many private homes put on elaborate shows, but he often wondered why he never saw a church light display focusing on the season’s true meaning. He’d seen standard nativities in front of churches, but a light display communicating the story was unique.

Volunteers from a church in Grandville
The Grandville UMC congregation rallied behind the vision of Pastor Ryan Wieland (middle). Volunteers Wally Michael (left), Dave Terbeek (right), and Brad Barrus (not pictured) were instrumental in making the Christmas light display a reality. ~ photo courtesy Ryan Wieland

Searching the Internet, he discovered a nativity light show at a botanical garden in Australia and purchased the programming for the nativity portion of the show. “We built a narrative framework around that,” Wieland said.

Pastor Ryan wrote the script for “The Light of Christmas” with help from church members, including Denise Scott, a retired teacher, and Carl and Tami Nelson, music professionals. It tells the story of Douglas Fir, a plucky Christmas Tree that is rescued from the trash and replanted behind a church, where he finally learns what Christmas is all about. Adrianna Nelson, a music theater major at Siena Heights University in Adrian, MI, provides the voice of Douglas.

Other pieces that came together to help make the show a reality include assistance from Dave Terbeek, an electrician in the congregation, and church custodian Brad Barrus, who helped build the framework. The 18 lighted nativity props were purchased from Winterland in Indiana, and the dancing lights from Light-O-Rama in New York.

“We’ve been working on this since August,” Wieland said. “I must have made a dozen trips to Menards and used more than 500 zip ties to attach the lights to PVC pipe. It’s been intense.”

Christmas light display at Grandville UMC
The light display at Grandville UMC has had a steady stream of visitors since opening on December 3. It has brought new life to the church. Pastor Ryan noted, “I’ve had a few groups from other churches or assisted living homes who have come out in vans or buses to see the show. Some of them have written a quick email to say they really enjoyed it and what a neat idea it is. So, that’s been encouraging.” ~ photo courtesy Ryan Wieland

The church parking lot faces the display, providing plenty of space for leisurely viewing the whole story, supplemented by music and narration broadcast to car radios. The show features For King and Country’s “Joy to the World” and “Light of Christmas” by Toby Mac and Owl City. Christmas favorites from Josh Groban and others fill in between showings.

Pastor Ryan said the show also encourages reaching out to others. A QR code posted on a sign by the display allows viewers to use their smartphones to donate digitally to the food pantry at South End Community Outreach Ministries as they serve those in need during this holiday season.

“Over the Christmas season alone, the show will play some 500 times. We hope to reach hundreds of families in West Michigan with the true meaning and joy of Christmas this year and in each year to come, with all donations going to those in need through our local food pantry,” Pastor Ryan said.

The congregation is grateful for the financial support that made this possible. A generous bequest from the late Marsha Roskamp and a $300 Advent/Christmas outreach grant (click here to learn more) from the Michigan Conference helped Grandville UMC meet its budget.

Light display at church at Christmastime
The Christmas story from the Gospels is told creatively by Douglas Fir, a character Pastor Wieland created. Douglas Fir is shown in the window above the manger (photo on the left). Families and individuals attending the light show can sit in their vehicles and tune their radio to 99.7 to listen to the entire story. They can also give back financially to the local food bank using the QR code provided (photo on the right). ~ photo courtesy Ryan Wieland

Churches interested in learning how to create a display at their church should contact Pastor Ryan at [email protected]. The overall production is customizable and scalable, and he is willing to walk churches through a pared-down version that’s more cost-effective.

“In the new year, we’re going to offer the supplies list and outline what the costs were to those who would like to do something similar. That’s always been a part of our plan. We want it to benefit other churches, not just the families seeing it.” Wieland notes that a Reformed church in the area has already inquired about pursuing it.

The “Light of Christmas” display will run every 15 minutes on a loop from 5 to 9 nightly through January 6 (click to visit the church website for directions). For those who cannot attend in person, a video recording of the Christmas display with narration is available via the church’s YouTube page.

Last Updated on January 9, 2024

The Michigan Conference