Jackson Hole’s Episcopalians were ready for their closeup.
Eighty-five of them in coats and hats packed the Chapel of the Transfiguration on Sunday afternoon for the filming of a faux Christmas Eve service that will be broadcast online for the real Christmas Eve.
Church services generally don’t require coaching, but this was showtime, so the Rev. Jimmy Bartz, rector of St. John’s, had some instructions.
“Not everyone feels confident singing, right?” Bartz asked. “Too bad. ... sing out. A few of these Christmas songs are so great a few of them we might sing twice.”
Then people waited as the cameramen positioned their equipment so nobody’s head blocked the altar.
“Welcome to show business,” a crew member said.
The media team from Episcopal Church headquarters in New York traveled to Jackson at Bartz’s request.
“Jimmy Bartz and I go way back,” said Mike Collins, multimedia services manager. “Jimmy invited us specially to come out for this.”
Asked how Jackson Hole was different from other film sites, Collins said, “It’s been friendlier.”
Bartz said he framed the invitation as, “Hey look, you guys come out to big cities, why not come to Jackson Hole? We’ll show you what an Intermountain West Christmas looks like in the snowy mountains.”
Performing in front of a camera didn’t faze him.
“What they’re looking for is an authentic representation of the Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve,” Bartz said. “We do that five times a year in a 24-hour period of time. ... We’re just celebrating Jesus’ birthday a little early.”
Faux though the holiday was, the chapel in Grand Teton National Park looked the part for Christmas Eve, with poinsettias, red-ribboned wreaths and lighted candles.
“I’ve never seen so many flowers in here,” said longtime parishioner George LeFebre.
Margaret Hutton and Lety Liera served as lectors, with Liera giving a reading from the New Testament in Spanish. The music was provided by Judy Bowser on the organ and Kirsten Farney and Karee Miller Jaeger performing vocals.
But some aspects of the service were unusual. Bartz and Brian Nystrom, associate priest at St. John’s, wore puffy coats over their clerical collars and draped their stoles over the coats. Packets of cough drops were passed around to people in the pews in case anyone felt a hack attack coming on while filming was underway.
And Bartz was right: Some songs had to be sung twice for production purposes. Parishioners belted out the opening processional hymn, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” two times, for example. Once with cameras positioned in the back of the chapel and again with the cameras at the altar.
Bartz spoke emotionally about how special the Chapel of the Transfiguration is.
“What a privilege it is to share it with the rest of the church,” he said.
The broadcasts are for “folks who are homebound or traveling in different spots where there isn’t an Episcopal Church and want to experience that distinct liturgy,” he said last week.
“It’s a little strange on Dec. 9 to be preaching a Christmas sermon and wishing a congregation ‘Merry Christmas,’” he said. “The gift will be for so many people who couldn’t otherwise get out and make it to one of our church services.”
If you want to watch the service, said Haley Deming, communications director at St. John’s, look for it at Christmastime on Vimeo, EpiscopalChurch.org, EpiscopalNewsService.org, the St. John’s Episcopal Church website, and the St. John’s and Episcopal Church Facebook pages.