Firestone Park Christmas Concert, church collaborations continue

A group of Firestone Park churches that have collaborated for more than 30 years in an annual Christmas concert are now taking the relationships established over those decades and formalizing them a bit.

The number of churches and community members in Firestone Park and beyond has gone up and down since the late Lela Brown started the first gig in 1988.

But a core group of four churches in Firestone Park and one church in Akron also came together to coordinate other events such as an ice cream party, picnic and hunger walk.

“We thought it was time. We call ourselves the Firestone Park Community Churches Christmas Concert. It was time to start with something,” said Jeanne Bearer, business manager of St. Paul’s Catholic Church. Bearer has been singing and helping coordinate the concert since its inception.

The group will now be called Firestone Park Church Partners.

The first item on the agenda is preparation for this year’s Christmas concert, which will take place on December 3 at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 1580 Brown Street.

The Christmas concert has become a community staple and a special Christmas event, said Akron Councilman Donnie Kamer, whose Ward 7 includes Firestone Park.

“It’s something that touches your heart when you sit there and hear those voices and those musicians,” said Kammer, who once sang at the concert in 2010.

Melody and Crystal Makey of the First Adventist Church in Akron sang at the 2020 Firestone Park Community Christmas Concert on Youtube.  The performance was on Youtube due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the years, the concert had rotated between churches, but now takes place in St. Paul, which has the largest sanctuary to accommodate spectators.

The first practice for the concert is Friday at 7 p.m.; rehearsals continue weekly until the third Friday in November. The choir includes singers from Firestone Park and other interested orchestra musicians who accompany the choir and the Summit Bells. The choir is led by Chuck Kobb, founder and director of the Summit Bells. The orchestra is conducted by Jin Yu, a member of the Chinese Church of Akron.

The concert also features solos, duets and small groups from other churches.

Ann Yu of the Chinese Christian Church of Akron performs in the 2020 Firestone Park Community Christmas Concert on Youtube.  The performance was on Youtube due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A lasting legacy

It will be the first gig without its founder, Lela Brown, dubbed the “Ambassador of Firestone Park” by community members. Brown, who lived in North Canton with her husband of 60 years, Leonard, was a longtime member of Akron’s First Adventist Church in Firestone Park and was very involved in the neighborhood, community members said. She died in August.

“It’s his legacy,” said Bearer, who is taking over the coordination of the Christmas concert. “She was very community-oriented.” Brown had visited every church in Firestone Park over the years to get them involved, Bearer said.

Leonard Brown will take over the Firestone Park Church Partners to continue his wife’s legacy.

“I still plan to step in and fulfill his job,” he said. “We’ve worked with him for years.”

The gig has happened every year but two: One year in the 1990s, Lela Brown felt people needed a break.

The Summit Bells perform at the 2021 Firestone Park Community Christmas Concert.

Virtual concert in 2020

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, churches decided to forego the in-person concert. Leonard Brown and the Browns’ son and wife with their production company, Beacon Productions, recorded various performances for an hour-and-a-half-long YouTube gig.

The concert can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZgzcbme17c

Work together

Over the years, the group has also organized other events, such as a hunger walk, an ice cream social and a picnic.

Lela Brown had a knack for bringing community and church members together in Firestone Park, Kammer said.

The late Lela Brown, shown with her husband, Leonard, started the Firestone Park Community Christmas Concert in 1988 and organized the concert and church collaborations until her death in August 2022

“She would actually bring all of these churches together. I mean, think about the Christmas concert. She brought them all together — and she was a person who, if some people said ‘no’, somehow they said ‘yes’,” Kammer said.

During the pandemic, churches coordinated to help with a summer lunch program, which was eventually run by schools, Bearer said.

Leonard Brown said the churches have often exchanged information about their various programs and he will continue to do so.

Brooklyn and Ness Chelakadan of the First Adventist Church in Akron sang at the 2020 Firestone Park Community Christmas Concert on Youtube.  The performance was on Youtube due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pastor Francie Fischer of Firestone Park Presbyterian Church and Allenside Presbyterian Church in Kenmore resumed two meetings of the churches after Lela Brown’s death, but is grateful Leonard is willing to lead the group.

Lela Brown reached out and quickly got Fischer involved six years ago when she arrived at the church in Firestone Park.

“What makes us work well together is that we all feel good in our own churches and we each have our own people, and we’re all ready to help each other,” Fischer said.

Father Matthew Pfeiffer of St. Paul's Catholic Church performed at the 2020 Firestone Park Community Christmas Concert on Youtube.  The performance was on Youtube due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think more and more churches are starting to realize that we have a lot more in common than differences, don’t we? And let’s focus on the things we have in common rather than the things that are different,” she said.

Bearer added, “We are looking for whatever we can do to help. Churches must come together to see the future of this community.

Anyone interested in participating in the concert can contact Bearer in St. Paul at 330-724-1263 or [email protected]

Members of the Firestone Park United Methodist Church Choir sang at the 2020 Firestone Park Community Christmas Concert on Youtube.  The performance was on Youtube due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This article is part of the Akron Beacon Journal mobile press room currently located at the Firestone Park Library Branch. Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected] Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher.

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