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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. MICHAEL’S).

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).