Little brings religious tradition to church

Published 4:34 pm Monday, December 24, 2007

CHURCH HILL — The 12-foot tree at the front of Church Hill United Methodist Church has more ornaments than the congregation has members.

And each ornament is a handcrafted symbol of Christ.

It’s not a Christmas Tree; it’s a Chrismon Tree. And one man did all the work.

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Larry Little, the church’s lay leader, proposed the idea more than a year ago. He wanted his small, country church to have the tree popular in many Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist churches.

Church members liked the idea, but no one volunteered to do the work.

So Little — the assistant superintendent for the Natchez-Adams School District who retired Friday — began cutting tin plate stencils of the designs he would later turn into Styrofoam ornaments.

By February he’d begun cutting the designs into the foam at a rate of about four or five a night.

Gold sequins and glitter were applied, and on Dec. 1, the tree and all 205 ornaments went up, a process that took 23 hours.

The tree will stay up until after the religious holiday of Epiphany, Jan. 6.

Sixty different Chrismons adorn the tree, and it takes a complete trip around it to see them all.

“The little children slide under and just look and look,” Little said.

But adults like what they see too, he said.

“They have been kind of wowed by it,” Little said. “They think it adds a lot to the church.”

Chrismons are handmade ornaments in the shape of traditional Christian symbols. In the early church, followers of Jesus facing persecution used the symbols as secret signs to one another.

The word Chrismon is a combination of the words Christ and monogram.

Little chose the symbols he wanted to include based on Internet research. The Church Hill tree has interlocking fish, angels, crosses and butterflies, to name a few.

But Little also created a few contemporary designs of his own. Boxing gloves speak to the defender of the faith. A gavel represents that everyone will be judged. And an umbrella represents the shelter Christians find in their faith.

On top of the tree sits a crown, the symbol of sovereignty representing that Christ is the “King of Kings.”

To accompany the tree, Little created a booklet explaining the origin of the Chrismon and detailing what each symbol means. He listed a scripture reference and a hymn for each symbol.

“I’ve always wanted to do (a tree),” he said.

As a lay leader of the church, Little leads services, songs and in the absence of the minister delivers the message.

Church Hill United Methodist was built in 1946. Its membership is approximately 125 now.

The Rev. Diane Woodall is minister.