Service members around the world could have gone online and watched the Christmas Eve Mass on Saturday at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Gibbsboro, but only one - Army Staff Sgt. Will Trimble - could feel as though it was meant for him.
His family brought the gifts to the altar. Three television cameras periodically turned to Trimble's wife and son. And at his small forward operating base in a remote patch of Afghanistan, the Army helped arrange for soldiers to view the service on computers.
"It's really, really cool," said his wife, Christi Trimble, "to be able to share something with him on this day, even though we're so far apart."
Will Trimble is a Texan serving in Afghanistan on his first tour of duty in that war zone, though he served two before in Iraq. Christi Trimble, 28, is from West Deptford. She and 21-month-old Zakk now live at Fort Lewis in Washington state.
The Trimbles are bound to St. Andrew the Apostle in two ways - the pastor, Msgr. Louis A. Marucci, married them three years ago, and he also baptized Zakk.
So it wasn't surprising that the soldier, who arrived in Afghanistan around the beginning of fall and who is set to return in the spring, and his pastor routinely had e-mail conversations. Trimble told Marucci his small base had no religious materials and no plans for Christmas services. He asked the priest to send Bibles and other books.
But this is the season of greater gifts, and Marucci decided to try for something more. NBC10 enthusiastically agreed to send cameras to the service and show it live over its website and its Nonstop channel. St. Andrew the Apostle got permission from the Catholic Church to hold a special Mass at 2 p.m. Saturday, which was 11:30 p.m. Afghanistan time.
By 2 p.m. in Gibbsboro, the church, with a capacity of about 700 people, was full, and it was clear this was no ordinary service. Four lights on tall poles bathed parishioners in bright television lights.
Just before the service began, Kenny Ilg, musical director for the Christmas Mass, prepped parishioners.
"We're doing a prerecorded greeting outside," Ilg announced. The cameramen would cue him, which also was the cue for the Mass to begin. A priest walked by a camera and smiled into it.
With the cameras rolling, Staff Sgt. Trimble, his brother in the Air Force in Italy, and anyone else could watch the procession entering the sanctuary. They could listen to the sweet sound of the children's choir singing "Silent Night." They could hear Marucci's homily, in which he read a poem that two Marines and one soldier, his child in his lap, listened to closely as they sat in the sanctuary.
"You fight the fight that others won't, make sacrifices that others don't. It's Christmas time and you're far from home, during this holiday season you're feeling alone," Marucci read.
"So please be assured when things don't feel right, that our love and our prayers are our gift, Christmas night.
When the Mass was over, Christi Trimble was smiling. The sadness came before the service, she said.
Even though she and her husband have been married only three years, she is used to the rhythm of being a military wife, a rhythm that includes passages of absence. She can cope with those, she said. Still, she said, "Christmas is my husband's favorite holiday. To not be with Zakk, especially, on Christmas is rough" for him.
That's why, she said, when the camera was pointing at Zakk, "I was trying to get him to say, 'Hi, DaDa'. "
The boy didn't, even though he scurries across their living room when the Skype chimes on their computer so he can see and talk to his father on the Internet.
"He calls the computer 'DaDa,' " she said.
Christi Trimble was looking forward to hearing from her husband and asking what he thought of the service and whether he had seen his son.
She talked about how grateful she was for everyone's efforts - the church's, the television station's, the Army's.
Christmas is a time to share faith with family, she said. She began to get tears in her eyes as she thought about what everyone had done to make her husband and other servicemen and women far away feel they were back home for the holiday.
"That's what Christmas is all about."