By Ralphine Major

On a Sunday morning in November, gift bags would be passed along each row of the congregation.  Church members were to take out a packet of tickets, go out in the community, and invite people to The Living Christmas Tree service.  It was a creative way Dr. James McCluskey devised to distribute thousands of free tickets with a personal invitation to a special worship service.  As Pastor Emeritus, McCluskey would give the welcome at the service, always wearing his signature red vest that he had worn for every Living Christmas Tree service since it started more than 40 years ago!  He was this writer’s main contact for The Living Christmas Tree series of articles in The Knoxville Focus in 2011.  On Christmas night this year, I watched on television a wonderful Living Christmas Tree service from Fellowship Chapel in Bristol, Virginia.  The service was a great mix of traditional Christmas carols and new, contemporary Christmas songs.  After a brief, inspiring message by Pastor Scott Price, the tree lights went dark as a lighted cross appeared on the tree.  At that moment, I could almost hear McCluskey’s voice—“This Tree, That Tree”—which I had heard in the first Living Christmas Tree service I saw more than 40 years ago at Wallace.  This week, I learned yet another amazing story about Lib and Jim McCluskey who served at Wallace for 37 years.  I know Focus readers will enjoy reading about a McCluskey Christmas memory below as told by Jim McCluskey, now 88 years old.

“Our celebrations on Christmas Day have been in many different places.  We escorted the Knoxville Tours Christmas Tours for sixteen Christmases from 1998-2014.  We celebrated from Orlando to Quebec City.  Twice we were in Canada.  Twice in New York City.  Twice at the Greenbrier Resort.  Twice with the Von Trapp Family at their lodge in Stowe, Vermont.  We were in the Poconos.  In Boston.  Many wonderful memories.

“But perhaps the most memorable was our Christmas in Spain in 1988. (30 years ago!)  That December we ‘filled in’ for Joyce and Howard Clark who were serving as missionaries in Zaragoza, Spain,so they could come home for Christmas.  For a month we lived in their apartment and used their car.  We supplied at the church they pastored.  We spoke no Spanish.  The church was English speaking.  I studied Spanish for a couple of months before we went.  I ‘learned’ some commonly used words and phrases but I could never make them understandable to the locals.

“We became addicted to magdalenas (Spanish cupcakes).  And flan.  And fresh bread.  We heard Feliz Navidad! at least a thousand times.  We celebrated Christmas Eve in a Catholic Church located across the street from our apartment.  We took a Christmas Tree with us and left it for the Clarks.  Joyce told me recently that she still has and uses the tree.

“We attended the Christmas Parade in Zaragoza.  Big deal!  No Santa Claus.  The Wise Men are the feature and climax of the parade.  They throw candy to the children.  Great memories!”

The McCluskey’s special memory is a great way to close this Christmas season.  I hope yours was a blessed Christmas making lots of memories with family and friends.  Happy New Year!