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New Ebenezer rings in the holiday season
bob and boltzius
With the statue of Rev. Johann Martin Boltzius looking over his shoulder, Rev. Bob Rogers leads the crowd in song and prayer Sunday at Christmas at Ebenezer. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

On a day between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the community came together to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

A crowd packed the New Ebenezer Retreat Center and Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church on Sunday for the second annual Historic Effingham Christmas at Ebenezer.

With tours of a Salzburger home decorated as it would have been for Christmas in the 18th century, a worship service in the oldest Lutheran church in America with a continuously active congregation, and candlelight Christmas caroling, the celebration harkened back to the days when the Salzburgers founded Ebenezer on the banks of the Savannah River in the 1730s.

“This is one of the few places we can come together where we can worship and celebrate Christmas on the same ground that our ancestors walked,” said Lonnie Pate.

“We get so busy, we forget the reason for the season — God’s salvation,” Rev. John Barichivich, pastor of Jerusalem Lutheran Church, said during the service. “Let us remember as Christians why we are here this night.”

To conclude the church service, First Baptist Church of Rincon Pastor Bob Rogers spoke to the congregation dressed as Johann Martin Boltzius, the church’s first pastor. Boltzius was senior minister to the Salzburger community at Ebenezer for three decades, from 1734-1765.

Speaking in a German accent as he impersonated Boltzius, Rogers described Christmas during colonial times. It was a simpler era, when the celebration did not begin until Christmas Eve.

“It was about joy. And it was about the birth of Jesus Christ,” he said.

As Pate said prior to the service, “They didn’t celebrate Christmas the way we do. They were just thankful to have a meal, and they really celebrated the birth of Christ.”

Rogers concluded the service by reading the lyrics to “Silent Night” in German, as they were originally written. He then led the congregation outside to sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” by candlelight around the church’s statue of Boltzius.

Prior to the church service, the participants enjoyed refreshments and a sing-along of Christmas favorites with the Effingham County High School chorus leading up to the lighting of the tree inside the New Ebenezer Retreat Center.

The ECHS chorus was a new attraction for the second year of Historic Effingham Christmas at Ebenezer.

“The turnout was wonderful — more than last year. We hope this celebration will continue to increase each year,” said Beth Epling, education coordinator for New Ebenezer Retreat Center.

The organizers plan to continue having it on the Sunday after Thanksgiving so it won’t conflict with other local holiday events, according to Epling.

“The coming together of our community in fellowship and in unity to celebrate the glorious birth of Christ is so inspiring,” Epling said. “We hope this is the beginning of a long tradition of Christmas at Ebenezer and our community continues to share in the joys of this special season.”

For more photos from Christmas at Ebenezer, go to