Last Modified: Friday, November 23, 2012 11:04 PM
KINDER — An Allen Parish holiday tradition has reached the end of the line.
After more than 30 years of drawing more than 60 murals for church musicals — the last 10 years at Green Oaks Church in Kinder — the Rev. Jerry Long is calling it quits after this Christmas.
“I’m retiring from drawing, but I hope to continue to preach until I’m 75, and I’ll be 72 in February,” Long said.
After years of creating the 50-foot chalk mural with winter scenes and hidden spiritual scenes to serve as the backdrop for the church’s annual illustrated Christmas musical, the work has gotten to be too much, Long said.
“It takes so much out of me, and I had two surgeries this year,” he said. “Age slows you down whether you want it to or not. It’ll be bittersweet for me, but my family and the majority of the congregation understands.”
A 16-member choir will present the final holiday musical, “Near to the Heart of God,” at 7 p.m. Dec. 7-9 in the church at 1544 Green Oak Road, off U.S. 165 north of Kinder. All performances are free.
With no formal art training, Long started creating the illustrated murals in 1977 while pastoring at Henderson Bible Church and later at Opelousas Bible Church. He’s also created murals for churches in Indiana and Alabama.
“I feel the Lord gave me a talent and I should use it for him, and I’ve done that for over 33 years,” he said.
This year’s mural was inspired by a photograph on a puzzle box of a small community in the winter. He added mountains to the backdrop, an homage to Colorado.
“Colorado is a beautiful mountain state, but it has had so many bad things happening in the last few years, so I wanted to do a mountain scene,” he said.
Past scenes have depicted New England with the covered bridges, a winter carnival complete with rides, a city skyline with children ice skating on a frozen pond and a rare Cajun snow scene.
This year he added more vehicles, snow skiers and ice skaters to include a father snowman and his son skiing down a mountainside. He also made the Christmas lights bigger on the trees to add more color and give the scene more of a 3D look.
The left side of the mural depicts a rural area with cabins and trees, while the right side shows a dress shop, bakery and toy store in a small town with their windows decorated for Christmas. The center focus of the mural is a church with lit stained glass windows.
There has never been a Santa Claus in any scene.
“The country and world in general have gotten away from the true meaning of Christmas and that is Jesus,” he said.
He creates the special effects by mixing standard and black lights with fluorescent and invisible chalk.
“It took me about four weeks, some days working 14 hours a day, to complete because I’ve gotten slower,” he chuckled. “The public doesn’t realize how much time goes into it.”
The choir began practicing for the 45-minute musical since early August.
Songs like “Near the Heart of God,” “First Come Celebrate Christmas,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “The Story of the Lord Shall Be Revealed,” “O’ Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Living To the Promise” set the stage as each panel is lighted to reveal another scene leading to the grand finale as the choir sings “A Season of the Heart, A Savior, A King.”
The program annually attracts 400 to 500 people, with out-of-state visitors and standing-room-only crowds, Long said.
“It’s the music and the mural background that brings the people,” he said. “They love it because it works well together. A lot of churches just do the musical and decorate the church. I guess that’s what we will have to do next year. The mural is what draws them.”
For more information, call the church at 738-3011.