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Volunteers fashion crosses of remembrance

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

By Georgene Gallo

Last year, volunteers decorated eight Christmas trees around the outer walls of the sanctuary at Ingomar United Methodist Church in Franklin Park.

Called "Peace Trees," these symbols of world unity were meant to become an annual part of the church's Christmas celebration.

They're back this year, but in stark contrast to last year's "festival of lights" theme, the Peace Trees this season do not offer a joyous display of multicolored lights and ornaments. Rather, in deference to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, the trees have a solemn, uniform appearance, with white crosses of remembrance and blue lights signifying peace, beneath a white star atop each tree.

Each cross represents a life lost, both at home and among American troops in Afghanistan, as a consequence of the attack and its war-torn aftermath.

The Peace Trees project evolved from an idea of interior designer Sheryl Carter, who serves the congregation as chairwoman for special events as well as coordinator for a community outreach program called Connect in Fellowship.

Carter bought 10,000 popsicle sticks, then asked a group of men from one of the ministries to drill holes in them for hangers. She made up bags of 100 sticks each for families to take home. Using glue, white paint and little hooks, the volunteers transformed the sticks into crosses.

The response, Carter said, "was so overwhelming that I had people asking me for kits after they were all gone. We brought everybody together on a very successful project."

Laurie Rees, communications coordinator for the church for the past 13 years, was cheered by the outpouring of help. But she wasn't really surprised, since the church has 1,800 members, she said.

The church had a dedication for the trees Dec. 1, before the start of Advent.

"We lit the Advent candles of joy, hope, peace, and love and placed the 5,000 crosses on the altar in baskets," Carter said. "I was just bawling. You know the numbers [of victims] but you can't understand until you see all the crosses."

"This year," said Rees, "instead of traditional lights and other decorations, our Peace Trees will promote our efforts for world peace."

For the display, completed the day after the dedication, Carter estimated she'd need more than 600 crosses per tree, but to her surprise "the trees were just loaded and we still had crosses left over. I could have used a few more trees. So, our crosses overflowed to the fresh tree outside the main entrance." That's the tree that the Men's Bible study group usually decorates each year. But like all the volunteers from the church's numerous ministries and outreach programs, they too were eager to help in the unique project.

"There will always be Peace Trees," Carter said, speaking of the new tradition at the church. But this year's theme of white crosses of remembrance and somber blue lights will long be remembered, she said, for its "simple elegance."

Georgene Gallo is a free-lance writer.

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