December 9, 2022

Parish uses Christmas light display to share the Gospel message

Dominican Father Justus Pokrzewinski enjoys spending time with students on Oct. 16 during a Sunday evening meal at St. Paul Catholic Center on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. Pictured, seated, from left, are Jose Kaufmann, Father Justus and Abigail Cerimele. Behind them, from left, are Connor Gorton, Lizzy Hart, Dane Babillis and Elizabeth White. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

One of several Nativity sets is displayed in “Bright Lights,” a drive-through Christmas light display on the campus of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BRIGHT—As dusk turned into darkness on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving known as “Black Friday,” colorful Christmas lights illuminated 19 acres on the campus of St. Teresa Benedicta Parish in Bright.

The more than 100,000 lights that made up the display weren’t there just to light up the night sky. The purpose of the “Bright Lights” display is to let the light of Christ shine in the souls of the people who view it.

“So many people follow secular Christmas, and Christmas lights are secular Christmas,” said Father Jonathan Meyer. “People who don’t believe in Jesus will spend thousands of dollars decorating their yards with lights. So, my whole thing was, ‘Hey, I would like to somehow reach out to those people.’ ”

Father Meyer is pastor in solidum with Father Daniel Mahan of St. Teresa and the other three parishes in Dearborn County—All Saints, St. Lawrence in Lawrenceburg and St. Mary in Aurora.

Bright Lights is free and open to the public from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through Jan. 6.

In what could be described as drive-through catechesis, signs next to the various features of the display explain how ordinary holiday images are rooted in the Catholic faith.

Lighted images of an angel and Mary have a sign that explains the Annunciation. Signs by figures of candles tell viewers that they are a reminder that the Christ Child is the light of the world.

Next to several Nativity scenes are signs with short prayers.

“If we can just help people say those words, I don’t know what God will unlock in their hearts,” said Father Meyer.

In addition to the signs, people driving through the campus can tune to two low-power FM radio stations to hear Christmas music and explanations of the display.

The culmination of the light show is a large, synchronized display at the back of the campus, with tens of thousands of lights blinking in time with music that viewers hear through their car radio.

St. Teresa parishioner Fred Gutfreund came by soon after the display was opened on Nov. 25 to see what he and dozens of Dearborn County Catholics had helped assemble on the campus.

“It feels great,” he said. “I think it will be a destination for people to come here. They can check out the parish and check out Bright. We hope people will come and enjoy it. It can draw attention to the Catholic faith.”

Other volunteers staff the display when it’s open to the public. They meet people as they drive onto the campus and give them flyers that provide more information about the display and the parish. More than 1,600 people visited Bright Lights on its first two weekends.

“It’s a beautiful display of lights,” said All Saints parishioner Alex Hornbach, a volunteer at the display on its opening night. “The intention behind it is way different than most people putting up lights. Hopefully, it will help people encounter Christ, especially if they haven’t already. I hope people enjoy it. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

One of the first people to visit the light show was Merita Glaub, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Morris, who said that the display’s Catholic themes “made me feel at home.”

A Baptist friend who came to Bright with Glaub also said the Christian aspects of the display were welcoming.

“I was very impressed with it,” said Sharon Norman, a member of Dearborn Baptist Church in Manchester, Ind. “The amount of work and time to do this was phenomenal. I love the way everything was done. Christ was brought in.”

Most of the features in the display were donated by Dearborn County Catholics. The only major costs were purchasing the synchronized light display from a previous owner and buying and installing wiring on the campus for the light show.

Funds for these purchases came from a grant from the archdiocesan Growth and Expansion Grant Fund, which is offered through the archdiocesan Catholic Community Foundation. It is one of four archdiocesan endowment funds from which grants are awarded to semi-annually parishes across central and southern Indiana.

Jolinda Moore, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Stewardship and Development, said the proposal from St. Teresa Parish for a grant to help fund Bright Lights was an “extremely creative and unique way to use monies from the endowment.”

“At the end of the day,” Moore added, “it is about seeing people grow in their faith and find ways to share the joy of Jesus Christ that resides in each of our hearts.”

Father Meyer noted that Bright Lights was the last of four events held around Thanksgiving by the four parishes of Dearborn County to reach out to the broader community there.

Two running and walking events raised funds for community food pantries. St. Mary Parish in Aurora held its inaugural “Pre-Turkey 5K” on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, drawing 225 participants.

All Saints’ “Gobble Wobble 5K” took place in St. Leon on Thanksgiving Day, attracting 1,200 runners and walkers.

And members of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrence served 300 hot meals on Thanksgiving to people in need.

Father Meyer was proud that the faith communities he helps lead “served thousands of people that aren’t their own parishioners” in so short a time.

“Being engaged and involved in the local community is pretty important,” said Father Meyer.

As he looked at the acres of lights at St. Teresa, Father Meyer said that Bright Lights and the other events held in Dearborn County around Thanksgiving were a way for the parishes to share the Gospel with the surrounding community.

“This is a way to reach out,” said Father Meyer. “It’s a way to be with people. I like to refer to it as non-threatening evangelization.

“We’re trying to just allow things to speak, allow beauty to speak, allow truth to speak.”

After the second weekend for Bright Lights, Father Meyer was happy that this approach to evangelization, which he knew to be effective in the past, was proving so once again.

“It is really amazing,” he said. “We are having great conversations and contact points with so many people from so many different walks life. I never thought it would get this big so fast.”

(For more information about Bright Lights, visit

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