In brief: Hope for the holidays

A scene for Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church’s “Christmas in Crisis” video is filmed underneath the Belmont Bridge.
PC: Courtesy Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church A scene for Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church’s “Christmas in Crisis” video is filmed underneath the Belmont Bridge. PC: Courtesy Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church

Holiday hope

COVID-19, like the Grinch, has threatened to stop Christmas. But Dr. Alvin Edwards, senior pastor at Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church, says, “We decided early on we weren’t going to let this crisis drive us, we were going to make it work.”

Jonathan Spivey, Mt. Zion’s minister of music worship, agreed. Back in July, recovering from COVID-19 (“I wouldn’t wish this virus on my worst enemy,” he says), inspiration struck. Since the church couldn’t stage its annual Christmas Cantata, the group would make a Christmas video that would also address the challenges of the pandemic.

Spivey recruited his friend Kelvin Reid, a musician at New Green Mountain Baptist Church in Esmont, and Caruso Brown, Mt. Zion’s drama director. Soon they had a working group to produce four episodes of “Christmas in the Crisis,” one posted every Sunday during Advent on Mt. Zion’s YouTube channel. Each episode focuses on an issue of these times: depression, grief, suicide, and racial inequality. The volunteer videographers, musicians, and actors come from all walks of life—other churches, other religions, no religious affiliation at all.

“Christmas in the Crisis” is uplifting but also moving and real. In episode three, the holy family beds down underneath Belmont Bridge; the Magi are homeless men who offer the Child their treasures. When the group was staging a Black Lives Matter rally on the Downtown Mall for episode four, a white family strolling by stopped to watch, and used the filming as a teaching moment for their children.

“We posted each episode Sunday at 4 pm, so families could watch together,” Spivey says. “Within 15 minutes, I’d start getting texts and emails from people saying ‘This is the real thing.’” After the episode in which a pastor grapples with depression, Spivey heard from a real-life preacher: “I feel validated.” 

Spivey is glad the series is being seen and shared. “So many people are hurting right now,” he says. All four episodes are still available online. The final episode, to be posted on Christmas Eve, will be a Christmas message from Edwards. All are welcome.—Carol Diggs

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Quote of the week

That was one of the most disturbing press conferences that I’ve ever seen.

Initial Police Civilian Review Board member Katrina Turner, addressing City Council about the police department’s December 10 press conference

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In brief

Attorney aims

Charlottesville-Albemarle public defender Ray Szwabowski announced last week that he’s running to become Charlottesville’s next commonwealth’s attorney. Szwabowksi says that, should he win, he’ll end felony drug prosecutions. “Our community knows that incarceration can’t treat addiction. We must do better,” reads his announcement. Current Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania has not yet said if he’ll seek reelection.

A dime a dozen

A dozen candidates—eight Democrats and four Republicans—have so far announced bids to become Virginia’s next governor. The field includes six state delegates or former delegates, and will begin to narrow as we approach the summer’s primaries.

Back to class

After nearly a year of virtual learning, students in Charlottesville will return to the classroom for face-to-face instruction early next year. While all pre-K through second graders, along with select special education students and English language learners in third through sixth grade, will start classes January 19, Buford Middle and Charlottesville High School will not return until February 1. On January 7, the Charlottesville School Board will decide when the remaining third through sixth graders will participate in in-person learning.

Keeping it civil?

In their Thursday meeting, the city’s Police Civilian Review Board expressed frustration at the options available to them when considering how to respond to Chief RaShall Brackney’s press conference from the week before. In the press conference, the chief called on church leaders who had filed a racial profiling complaint to resign from their posts. But the civilian review board, as currently constituted, cannot initiate a further investigation, or even officially comment on the incident.

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