Not all was camp and vamp, however. About halfway through the performance, the lights failed—on purpose. The head elf in charge urged the choir to sing, so that the blackout might leave. The 100-plus men of Men Alive launched into reverential renditions of “Silent Night” and “O Magnum Mysterium” that silenced the crowd quickly.

The giant wreath above the choir became illuminated anew. The elf urged more music. Gunn worked the piano. The symbolism was obvious—remember the reason for the season and let the Light enter the world. And yes, even gay men can praise the Lord.

The following day, Mariners held its own winter celebration: a tree-lighting ceremony. Thousands spread across the church’s lawn, enjoying a mini-fair complete with craft tables, food stands, photo booths and dozens of women hawking tchotchkes. A 45-foot Christmas tree loomed above the joyous crowd. It was a simulacrum of small-town Americana at its finest, and the only reminder for casual observers that this was a church was an 80-foot cross standing outside the worship center, lit like the moon.

If Beshore was around, no one mentioned him—instead, a young, charismatic man led a band and singers through a Christmas program as secular as what they allow at public schools nowadays. First up was Louis Armstrong’s salacious “Cool Yule,” with swing dancers jitterbugging onstage and in the crowd. More carols followed, interspersed with scenes on a big screen from holiday classics such as Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Three of the dozen or so songs performed during what the young man kept calling a “service” mentioned the birth of Jesus.

Soon, thousands joined an interactive version of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” complete with college students dressed to represent the particular gift of a day: French hens, piping pipers, golden rings. Each section yelled out their particular day, the energy growing with each verse. Suddenly, the lights went out. This was unplanned.

“We don’t need no stinking light!” the service leader shouted, and the festivities continued for a couple of minutes in the darkness.

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

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