816 North

Gladstone home with 109 trees sends a Christmas message

Pastor Jerry Powell (center) recently led a gathering in traditional Christmas carols.
Pastor Jerry Powell (center) recently led a gathering in traditional Christmas carols. SPECIAL TO THE STAR

During the holidays, there are enough Christmas tree lights glowing inside the home of Jerry Powell and Burt Comstock that they don’t have to use any other lights. That’s a good thing too, because all of the lamps and end tables have been moved out to make way for 109 Christmas trees, hundreds of Santa decorations and dozens of Nativities.

“The whole house transforms at Christmas,” said Comstock.

Even the pictures are taken off the walls to make way for Christmas art. A large image of Santa Claus stopping to ponder the Christ-child in the manger points to the purpose of the presentation.

The men decorate in part because they enjoy the season, but also as a teaching tool for the church they lead.

Powell is the head pastor and Comstock an associate pastor for The Living Word Community Church. The small congregation meets at the Gladstone Community Center. Every year, the Christmas trees serve as the backdrop for a party and outreach dinner the pastors host at the home.

People who enter the party first see a large cross by the front door, which Powell calls “the first Christmas tree.”

A front room is filled with decorations symbolizing different parts of the Christian message. It includes a large “Nativity tree” with hundreds of ornaments all depicting the birth of Jesus, many of which were carved from olive wood and carried back from one of Powell’s numerous trips to the Holy Land.

That tree is flanked by two red-lighted trees meant to represent the blood of Jesus. Three little trees at the base of a purple tree point to the gifts of the wise men. A puny Charlie Brown tree is set-up to remind viewers of the value of humility in faith.

This message within what most would consider “secular” Christmas decorations is largely the point of the display. Other rooms fancifully continue with lessons about Christmas. One bedroom filled with snowmen gives Powell the opportunity to talk about how “washes us white as snow.” Gingerbread trees in the kitchen point to how a relationship with Jesus rings good things into our lives.

In the bathroom, Powell quips he gets the opportunity to talk about “The Gospel according to John.”

Comstock, who works for Southwest Airlines, has a tree with the 21 annual ornaments he’s received from the company while working there. He was ordained last summer at the non-denominational church.

The trees are just the latest outreach in a long ministry for Powell. Ordained at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in the 1970s, he spent 20 years working with Youth for Christ and had a TV show on Channel 50. He smuggled Bibles into China and started a church in Branson, Mo., before coming home to Gladstone Powell came back to Gladstone from Branson in 2007 to care for his terminally ill mother.

Powell started the church in January 2009.

The decoration explosion started innocently enough. The men decided to put two large trees on either side of a fireplace in the living room, which has a cathedral ceiling. A family member suggested they needed a tree downstairs as well. Next, someone suggested that they put a tree in each room, and then it “snowballed” from there.

“Well, you know you just couldn’t stop with one,” said Powell.

After a couple of years scouring garage sales and buying deeply discounted items at Wal-Mart after Christmas, they have managed to fill up the whole house. At least they think it’s full, but they aren’t promising.

The trees have become so popular that Powell and Comstock have started opening their home on occasion to other groups. The trees also made the national news.

They don’t have a regular time “aside from the yearly Christmas party for the church” that the home is open to the public. However, they are willing to give tours to individuals and groups on request.

While the decorations are meant to minister to others, getting the chance to talk about the message within the trees has also touched Powell’s heart.

“I have always loved Christmas, but it has refocused myself to keep my focus where it needs to be,” he said.