The Christmas Tablecloth
It’s three days before Christmas 1975 and Jeff Shannon
and his wife, Susan, are packing up the final belongings of their home in
anticipation of their move from New Rochelle to Brooklyn where he is about
to become pastor of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church. A recent graduate of
seminary school, he has mixed feelings about the new assignment and is
having doubts about his ability to lead a congregation of his own. Susan
does her best to give him some words of encouragement (FOR THE BEST).
Meanwhile, at St. Michael’s in Brooklyn, the aging
members of the church choir, Harold, Albert and Angie, are practicing one of
the hymns which they’ll be singing for the Christmas Eve service (SING
ALLELUIA). Choir director, Carl Waldman, reminds them that the new pastor
is due soon. The others are sure he will immediately try to change
everything they like about St. Michael’s and, as soon as Jeff arrives, the
three do their best to try to discourage him from staying (WELCOME TO ST.
Undaunted, Jeff plans a work party for the following
morning. When he emerges from the parsonage, he finds an old woman, Marta
Zander, asleep in the church. Sensing that she may be in need of financial
help, he offers to buy a embroidered tablecloth which he spies in a bag she
is carrying. While he goes off to get his wallet, Marta recalls her past
life which the tablecloth brings to mind (A SIMPLE PIECE OF CLOTH). She
runs off, but not before she leaves the tablecloth behind.
Upon his discovery of the tablecloth, Jeff notices the
initials “H.W.” embroidered in one of the corners. Susan puts it in a safe
place in case the old woman returns to claim it. Carl Waldman arrives and
it appears that he’ll be the only one coming for the work party. Jeff is
downhearted and once again wonders if he’s up to the challenges of this new
assignment. Carl and Susan boost his spirits (CHRISTMAS IS A TIME FOR
MIRACLES). No sooner have they done so when Harold, Angie & Albert make
their appearance. Together they pledge to work together for the good of the
church and Jeff thinks that things are finally looking up.
That night, a severe storm causes a tree branch to
crash through a stained glass window on the altar. Whatever hopes Jeff had
after the success of the previous day’s work party suddenly disappear and he
makes a heartfelt plea to God to explain once and for all why he’s been
brought there (QUESTIONS).
It’s now Christmas Eve and, with the help of Carl and
Harold, Jeff nails up boards to cover the damaged window. He leaves to find
something to use to cover up their unsightly handiwork.
Susan arrives with food to be packed in boxes which
will later be taken to a nearby homeless shelter. Carl & Harold discover
that she once sang in the choir in New Rochelle and they convince her to
join St. Michael’s choir (SONG OF ANGELS). The three of them carry the
food boxes to the car for delivery.
Jeff returns, bringing with him the embroidered
tablecloth which Marta Zander left behind. As he tacks it up over the
damaged window, Carl reenters and is taken aback at the sight of the cloth,
explaining to Jeff that it looks just like the design for one that his wife
Helena made for him during the war. Carl further shares the fact that she
always embroidered her initials in every piece she created. Jeff shows him
the “H.W.” in the corner and Carl anxiously begins to question him about the
old woman who left it behind. He then relates the story of how he and
Helena were members of a resistance group in Austria but decided to flee to
Switzerland when the Nazis began their conquest of Europe. Unfortunately,
after putting her on a train and pledging to meet her in Switzerland once he
had packed up their belongings, it proved to be the last time he would ever
see her (WE WILL MEET AGAIN). He later received word that the Nazis had
stopped the train and she was undoubtedly taken to a concentration camp.
Jeff pledges to try to find Marta Zander again with the hopes that she might
be able to provide Carl with information about what happened to Helena.
When Susan and Jeff deliver the food boxes to the
homeless shelter he spies Marta Zander, confirming his suspicions that she
is indeed in need of a helping hand (THOUGHTS #1). When he tries to speak
with her she tries to run off but stops when he brings up the name Helena
Waldman. She questions his knowledge of Helena, and he explains that the
tablecloth she left behind may have once belonged to Helena. Marta
confesses to him that she is Helena and relates a story of her attempt to
flee Austria by rail but having to finish the journey on foot once the Nazis
stopped the train looking for the members of their resistance group.
Though he doesn’t tell her why, Jeff convinces Helena
to come to the Christmas Eve service later that night. He finally realizes
the reason God has brought him to Brooklyn—to bring about the wonderful
miracle of the reunion of Carl & Helena. (THOUGHTS #2)
At the Christmas Eve service (SONG OF ANGELS), the
theme of Jeff’s sermon is how God works in mysterious ways. Disappointed
that Helena seems to have decided not to come, Jeff joins the choir in
singing the final Christmas hymn (SING ALLELUIA). Helena finally arrives
and she and Carl have an emotional reunion as the choir gathers around them
(WE WILL MEET AGAIN Reprise).