One of Indiana’s most cherished traditions, the Indy Circle of Lights, is in its 54th year this Christmas season. Thousands will gather around Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis to ring in the holidays by lighting up the Monument.
Several AU students and alumni are involved in this year’s festivities, including the Celebration Band, one of the Circle of Lights featured performers and the winner of this year’s Indiana’s Got Talent competition.
The band, directed by AU student Luke Stafford, leads worship at Celebration Church in Anderson every Sunday morning. Phoebe Mangas, a junior at AU who is also involved in the worship community at Celebration Church, got the idea to try out from her sister who helps with the Circle of Lights each year. She presented the idea to Luke and soon enough, they found themselves with a team of fellow worship leaders practicing until two in the morning the night before try-outs.
Other AU students performing with the Celebration Band at the Circle of Lights are Jon Ledbetter, Marcus Carter and Josh Townsend.
As Director of Worship, Stafford organizes the music and creates arrangements, rehearses with the musicians, and leads vocally and on piano. He also incorporates a spiritual emphasis centered around prayer into every service.
“We like to call it a ‘worship community’ instead of a worship band, because we are incredibly diverse but we come together with a common purpose,” explains Stafford.
He helped grow Celebration’s worship community from three people to two full rosters of people with different musical backgrounds and talents.
Mangas appreciates the strong emphasis of diversity in the church. “We celebrate our differences and at the same time, our unity in Christ is an overarching theme,” she said.
Stafford, Mangas and the rest of the Celebration Band are excited to help usher in the holiday season at the Circle of Lights. Mangas explains that the ultimate goal is to “unify Indianapolis,” and what better way than with family and friends, spirit-filled entertainment and 5,000 lights?
Stafford is enthusiastic about the chance to serve his community. “We wanted to jump into something that’s outside the box and that will give the glory to God on a larger stage,” he said. “We will be going into the secular market but we won’t be keeping the Kingdom of God in a box.”
Throughout the countless hours spent preparing for their performance, relationships within the Celebration Band have “grown and deepened immensely,” according to Stafford. The growth in friendship and chemistry between members of the band have influenced and improved their sound, and they are excited to share this with the community.
“When we make it about ourselves, it’s bad,” Stafford said. “When everyone connects to each other and to the Spirit, it’s so much better. We want to share these gifts and talents because they aren’t our own.”
Mangas emphasized what a team effort this experience has been. “We’ve had practices where everyone had stuff they needed to do, nobody wanted to be there, but we always come together anyway. At the end of it, we always enjoy each other and we enjoy what we do.”
Both Stafford and Mangas appreciate the role that Celebration Church has played in their journeys both individually and as part of the worship community. The church is in a period of major transition with a change of pastors, and the growth that its worship team is experiencing is “a huge testament of faith,” according to Stafford.
Mangas is grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Circle of Lights because “it has been such a positive thing for our church. It’s so cool to see the leaders of the church excited about something rather than worried. I haven’t seen their faces light up like this in quite a while.”
To the members of Celebration Church, the Circle of Lights is more than a beloved Christmas tradition. It represents their faith in God to provide in times of hardship coming to full fruition.
On Nov. 22 at 7:00 p.m. on channel 13, the Indiana’s Got Talent competition will be broadcasted, and the Circle of Lights will take place this year the evening of Nov. 25.
Mangas encourages her fellow AU students to come experience the Circle of Lights because “in college, it’s hard to get into the spirit of the Christmas season because we’re so busy and it just flies by. This event does so much to ring in the season and get everyone excited for Christmas. Plus, it’s an awesome chance to support all of the AU student and alumni who are involved.”
Stafford adds that “our school encourages us as students to learn, to grow, and to overall be better. This is a direct result of something happening because we have done just that.”