Connecting with the community

PHS alumna Abigail Duke, PHS senior Molly Bogan, teacher Lynne Jebeles and junior Kimberly Green after the city of Pelham's Annual Tree Lighting on Nov. 26. (Contributed)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“Be-te-le-he-mu-everyone say this with me,” said Pelham Mayor Gary Waters at the Pelham tree-lighting ceremony. The crowd made several attempts to master the sounds. Waters said that we’d understand this strange word before the night was over. And Waters would be true to his word.

I tell my students to use word analysis-looking closely for some part of unknown words that might be familiar. Taking my own advice, I guessed the word meant Bethlehem in some other language. I wondered what strange language Pelham’s new mayor might know.

Brother Mike Shaw-Pelham’s police and fire department chaplain for 35 years and pastor of Pelham First Baptist Church, spoke next. Although I’ve always had a fondness for Brother Mike and his wife Mary, I loved Brother Shaw even more when he said, “I’ve always been a reader. I love reading.”

Brother Shaw went on to share that he recently suffered a detached retina and couldn’t read as much as he once did. Shaw said that not being able to read easily made him thankful for all of those years when he could read as much as he wanted to read. He encouraged us to realize the great effort that those who have suffered more serious disabilities exert to accomplish daily tasks and to appreciate our own gifts.

Our schools’ choir and band performances followed. Mixing tradition and innovation to connect our community-church members, students, city officials, and everyday citizens all became partners.

“These kids need to know they are a part of the larger community,” PHS Choir teacher Lynne Jebeles said. “They get that at this event. The younger students admire them and the adults respect them.”

“Be-te-le-he-mu” was the Nigerian carol that the Pelham High School Choir sang. The nontraditional song surprised the audience, but its rhythm captured them. In Nigerian, Be-te-le-he-mu means Bethlehem-the setting of the first Christmas. The song lyrics call Bethlehem, “the city of wonder.”

Pelham’s tree lighting allows us to strengthen our community connections, appreciate each group’s talents and begin the journey to the hushed wonder of Christmas once again.