After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the annual Christmas Bazaar is back at S.S. Morris Community African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church on Madison’s east side. The event, this Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11, brings the parish and community together for holiday cheer and to support local Black businesses.
Karla Garcia, the pastor at S.S. Morris Church, says that the parish is really excited about this year’s Christmas Bazaar because it has been canceled in 2020 and 2021.
“We are so excited that we are back. This is the biggest community outreach that we do,” Garcia tells Madison365. “As you know, the event is always extremely well attended. We have a lot of vendors with a variety of products from jewelry to specialty food items to quilts, blankets, T-shirts, all types of items that really display people’s creativity and innovation.”
Many Madionians remember the annual S.S. Morris Church event, which is over 20 years old, as the Bethlehem Community Marketplace Bazaar, a unique opportunity to be immersed in the same sights, sounds, and smells that Mary and Joseph encountered over 2,000 years ago. The bazaar was always a unique chance for people to walk around and talk with the townspeople while perusing arts, crafts, baked goods, and food.
“We just look forward to opening our church to the community and finally being able to do what we do best. Our church really has an extreme spirit of hospitality. We love having people in our church. We love smiling. We love welcoming people. And we just love our community,” Garcia says. “And this is one way that we demonstrate our love for the community by opening up our doors and having people come in.”
Barb Thomas, a retired O’Keeffe Middle School teacher and longtime member of S.S. Morris Church, is once again organizing the bazaar.
“Barb is in charge. She is our general. Barb is leading the whole thing,” Garcia says. “She created the fliers, the assignments, the booth designs, it’s all Barb and we just follow her lead.”
Beyond all of the unique crafts and clothing, vendors will also be selling homemade food and baked goods that church members made for two days — Saturday, Dec. 10, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11, 1-3:30 p.m.
“It’s a two-day affair, so we’re doing it all day Saturday and then they have an opportunity to come back on Sunday after our church service to be able to display their products and goods again,” Garcia says. “We are supporting small business owners, we’re supporting our community, and we are happy just to have our doors open.”
The Christmas Bazaar is also a great opportunity to support local, small (mostly Black) businesses during the holidays.
“People are so creative with the things that they have custom-made by hand. These are things that you would never find in a store. And it’s good to allow people to be able to give a very special gift instead of the traditional stuff that you find in the store. This is a way to get something that’s very unique, and to give that as a gift.
“I know the vendors are very excited and already calling to see when they can come and set up,” she adds. “Everyone is just really, really excited about this Christmas season without all of the restrictions that we’ve had over the past two years. As a church, it has been rough for two years trying to maneuver in COVID and not having church or having just limited time in our church. So we’re just so excited to be back with a bang.”
While the COVID pandemic has been hard on SS Morris Church parishioners, so has the loss of one of their most beloved members, Wayne Strong, who passed away suddenly this past June. At S.S. Morris Church, Strong served as the pro tem of the Trustee Board and as a steward and was also Garcia’s close and trusted friend.
“It’s a devastating loss. It still doesn’t really seem real. He did so much for me and the church,” Garcia says. “He was not only a member of my church, but he was also my friend and my confidant and a person that I could trust to really carry out a lot of things that I really needed help with and so it’s just devastating.
“We have some things in place to help remember Wayne. We’re collaborating with the Madison Community Foundation to establish a scholarship endowment as a way of honoring him in a perpetual way,” she continues. “And so we’re setting up the steps and the criteria for the scholarship and the community foundation is very excited to have this available. He will have his own landing page there where people can donate directly to the foundation and we would be able to award scholarships in his name.”
The S.S. Morris Christmas Bazaar was always a place where you could find Strong and his family at. Garcia says that she is looking forward to seeing her church community and the larger community, too.
“The Christmas Bazaar will definitely be a celebration of so many things. And so at our church, we pride ourselves in having unity in our name, and that’s what we do …. we support our community and we serve our community.”