SENECA FALLS, NY (December 16, 2016) – Greg Asimakoupoulos says he was humbled by the opportunity to preach at the historic First Presbyterian Church in Seneca Falls during the recent It’s a Wonderful Life festival on the seventieth anniversary of the classic movie. Seneca Falls bills itself as the community that inspired the fictional town of Bedford Falls, where the movie takes place.
It was the first time in the festival’s 20-year history that a religious component has been added to the program. “The organizing committee decided to add the religious element this year because the theme of It’s a Wonderful Life is the worth of every individual, the love of a family, and faith in God,” says Asimakoupoulos, who serves as the chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community in Mercer Island, Washington.
Asimakoupoulos was invited to participate because of his longtime friendship with Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey in the movie, and because he had written the devotional book Finding God in It’s a Wonderful Life four years ago.The festival was held December 9–11, and Asimakoupoulos preached on the final day. “Standing in the same pulpit from which Alice Paul stood to deliver the text of and advocate for the very first Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 was humbling to say the least,” he said.
Asimakoupoulos’s sermon was a spin on the plot twist in the movie. Titled “What If You’d Never Been Born?” it was a letter to the Christ child. “I imagined what it would have been like had Jesus never been born,” he says.
“Being in Seneca Falls and seeing the thousands of people who gathered for an entire weekend to celebrate the movie’s impact was mindboggling,” Asimakoupoulos said. He was impressed by the newly established year-round museum dedicated to the film. It includes original props and costumes and personal effects from the actors that have been donated.“As a lifelong fan of the movie, I was personally thrilled to meet the three surviving actors,” Asimakoupoulos said. “I also was able to spend time with Donna Reed’s daughter and discover that her mother had lived on Mercer Island before she died thirty years ago.”
There is no real proof that Bedford Falls was based on Seneca Falls, but the bridge George Bailey jumps off and the town itself bear a significant similarity to the New York town located between Rochester and Syracuse.
An excerpt from Asimakoupoulos’s sermon:
“Jesus, if you’d never been born we would have no way of knowing that God so loved the world that he was willing to give his only Son so that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.
If you’d never been born, you would have no way of personally identifying with the plight of the stepchild, the stresses of the homeless, or the refugee escaping an intolerable life. For you began your life without a home to call your own, raised by a father who wasn’t your own, and were a victim of a terrorist’s plot to annihilate innocent children….You experienced these aspects of the human condition so that you can empathize and stand with those who feel like no one understands.
Had you never been born, the world would never know the artistic beauty of Michelangelo’s Pieta or the glorious chorus of Handel’s “Hallelujah.” We’d not know how a Bach chorale or a Gaither gospel song could move us to tears. If you’d never been born, we wouldn’t know the joy that comes from loving our neighbors as ourselves or that we are called to the gold standard of doing to others what we’d want others to do to us. Had you never been born we would not have the assurance that death has been swallowed up in victory.”