Dale Jenkins may be tone deaf, but at least he sings loud. Tonight, with stars tucked behind a blanket of clouds, the senior pastor at Airway Heights Baptist Church goes door to door, leading friends and family through well-known Christmas carols at neighboring homes. Arm around his wife Penny, he makes a joyful noise, not caring how melodic the outcome is.
Even in the worst of winters — when breath turns white and walkways ice up — he's persevered, caroling to neighbors in the area for the past 17 years. It began back in Bakersfield, California, with the first church he pastored, as a way to bring love to parish shut-ins and also minister to the community. For 25 years, he hasn't missed it.
Caroling may not be as popular as it once was, but tonight — the longest night of the year and four days before Christmas — a group of 30 people, spanning all ages, participate in song.
"Caroling gets us around folks who need cheer," the 58-year-old explains.
Some of the visited are like family, some are strangers. One woman sticks her head out of her second-story window and, smiling, says: "Make sure to sing on key, I don't want any flat notes," to Jenkins' laughter.
Another man can't come outside to listen, so instead the carolers file inside and surround his living room chair. He sits and listens in awe as the songs fill the room. Door after door, people open up and their faces melt with appreciation. They wave and say: "Thank you! Merry Christmas!"
The crew doesn't dress up like Victorian carolers or produce flawless four-part harmony. Instead, people wear puffy jackets and funny crocheted hats, and their tones are sometimes mismatched. They hold flashlights and phones to read the lyrics. And because it's 45 degrees, the warmest winter night Jenkins has experienced since caroling in Washington, the singers' cheerfulness does not wane as they dot the various lawns.
"We look like a montage of people who live around here, because we are," he says.
Riding home on a former airport shuttle, now a church bus, people are still pumped up and singing continues, including a rendition of "Let it Snow."
"When we finally kiss goodnight... " the third verse starts.
"Huh?" Jenkins exclaims, feigning offense.
Children's laughter fills the warming vehicle.
Pulling into the church parking lot after two hours of caroling, passengers are excited for hot cocoa and chili (not usually mixed together, but the kids dare Jenkins to try it). Here, no longer kidding around, Jenkins admits he's exhausted.
"A couple of the homes we stopped at tonight, this may be their last Christmas," he says, eyes misting. "For me, sharing our songs is exactly what Christmas is all about." ♦