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Rhema’s Christmas Lights Extravaganza is an amazing, glowing, LED love letter to all things Christmas.

Michele Chiappetta
Chelsi Fisher
November 28, 2018

Every year during the holiday season, Broken Arrow lights up with a Christmas display that must literally be seen and experienced firsthand to be believed. We’re talking about the Christmas Lights Extravaganza that adorns the campus at Rhema Bible Church on W. Kenosha Street. And once you’ve seen it, you’ll want to return with your family, friends, co-workers, and anyone else you can invite year after year.

First introduced to Broken Arrow in 1982, Rhema’s annual holiday display is in its 37th year, and it’s an amazing, glowing, LED love letter to all things Christmas. “I think that first year [1982], we had around 60,000 lights,” says Roger Sharp, assistant to the pastoral staff at Rhema Bible Church. “Now, we have more than that just on the bridge that goes through the park and the arch on that bridge — we have more than 100,000 lights just on that bridge alone.”

Of course, Rhema’s campus is much bigger than just a bridge in a park, and just about every inch worth decorating is hung, lined, or otherwise gussied up with sparkling LED lights. This year, there will be more than 2 million lights glowing, flashing, and entertaining more than 200,000 visitors for the six weeks of the community event.

In the past few years, Sharp says Rhema has been concentrating on upgrading their display to feature LED lights, which are less expensive to use, longer-lasting, and offer some key advantages in making a Christmas lights presentation stand out.

“The savings are significant with the LEDs,” Sharp notes. “When we had the 60,000 lights in the park the first year, the electricity it took would run a house. With the new LEDs, the electricity it takes to run the bridge is like what it would take to run a refrigerator. That’s the difference.”

And LED lights also gleam more brightly in cold weather, making for a more striking display in the chill of winter nights. “For outdoor display, they’re brighter. It really makes a difference,” says Pete Bartolazzi, manager of the lights crew and supervisor over the light display department.

The project of setting up the lights begins in August, because it’s such a massive job. The 20-man crew, which consists of some full-time employees and some Rhema Bible College students, finished up most of the work the day before Thanksgiving. “Sometimes, there’s a few things to do after Thanksgiving, but for the most part, it’s done by then,” says Bartolazzi.

Visitors to the Rhema lights extravaganza can expect a fun, festive, family feel as they visit. Tree trunks and branches are covered with colorful lights, the campus buildings are strung and glowing, and the lit Nativity scene will be in its usual prominent spot on the front lawn of the church.

And of course, there’s the park, with its sloping landscape, numerous trees, pond and gazebo, and bridge — all of which are adorned with more magical lights than you can probably imagine unless you walk through the area and see it for yourself. The bridge itself is a favorite for visitors, with its flashing, pulsing display synchronized with Christmas music for a trippy, gorgeous experience.

On any given night, visitors might enjoy a casual vocal performance by members of the Rhema Bible Church choir, or a carriage ride around the campus, enjoying the sights in a leisurely, holiday style with loved ones.

“The carriages are usually here on the weekends until that last week when they’re here all week long,” says Sharp. Prices typically range $10 for adults, $5 for children, with children aged 2 and under free. Private carriage rides can also be arranged for $50. “It’s been a very popular attraction,” says Sharp. “The carriages are all lit up. We’ve had a great response to that.”

And to warm up while walking or driving through the display, visitors can enjoy some refreshments, the proceeds of which help fund various youth events through the church. “We built a new refreshment stand this year,” says Bartolazzi. “We had one that had one window, and it would get jammed up. We now have one with four windows, so it should be able to serve people a lot quicker.” Light up toys for children, hot chocolate, apple cider, soft drinks, popcorn, sandwiches, and more are available.

The one thing you won’t see at the Rhema Christmas Lights Extravaganza are the advertisers and commercialism so often associated with the holidays these days. “We really try to keep the event non-commercial,” Sharp says.

“We want to make it about the lights, because this is a gift back to the community. We want a very safe environment for people to come out and enjoy the lights. Our pastor always says, ‘Jesus is the light of the world. And if a church is not being a part of the community, then you’re not doing your job.’ So, that’s why we’re doing this. We want this to be a gift to the city of Broken Arrow.”

People come from all over the region — Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas — to visit the display. Sometimes, they even come from overseas. “Friends of ours came last year from Germany,” says Sharp. “They said, ‘We want to come sometime and see your lights.’ So they came last year, and were just so overwhelmed. They had a wonderful time.”

Bartolazzi says the church will even work with special requests. For example, you can call the church’s main phone number to request that a light display by the park be lit up to say, “Will you marry me?” for a special pop-the-question moment. Or if a group is bringing a bus or van, special parking can be arranged, especially if the group needs special accommodations for easier accessibility.

Admission is free. Visitors may purchase concessions on-site, and donations are always welcome to help cover the costs of the display.

Rhema Christmas Lights Extravaganza
Rhema Bible Church
1025 W. Kenosha St. | Broken Arrow
Dec. 1-Jan. 1: 5:30-11:30 p.m.