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Friday, 06 December 2013 09:56

Area churches reach out to visitors with living Nativity displays

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Cargill United Methodist Church in Janesville invites the community to its Nativity display, set for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, at the church, 2000 Wesley Ave. Visitors can choose to drive through the display or walk through for a closer look. Cargill United Methodist Church in Janesville invites the community to its Nativity display, set for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, at the church, 2000 Wesley Ave. Visitors can choose to drive through the display or walk through for a closer look.

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- Area churches are ringing in the holiday season by bringing the story of Christmas to life.

During the next several weeks, several churches will host a living Nativity display or re-enactment.

At Cargill United Methodist Church in Janesville, volunteers are gearing up to host hundreds of visitors during the Nativity display, which is Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21 and Dec. 22. 

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The Nativity scene will feature actors telling the story about the birth of Jesus, as well as live animals.

“It’s a big event. People can enter through Harmony Drive then drive past the Nativity scene then exit on Wesley Avenue,” the Rev. Forrest Wells said. “People can also park their cars and get a closer look at the Nativity scene and the live animals.”

About 120 volunteers help with the event.

“We usually run three shifts to keep people out of the elements for too long,” Wells said. “We have people who help with costumes. We have people who serve warm refreshments. We have volunteers who help coordinate traffic. We have Christmas carolers, and everyone who comes through gets a candy cane as they leave.”

Live animals are donated by a farm in Westfield.

“They have quite a few animals available for live Nativity scenes and petting zoos ... like camels and donkeys,” Wells said.

This will be the third year that the church has hosted a drive-through Nativity scene. Wells said the church wanted to host a Christmas event that the community would enjoy.

“During past years, we held a Christmas in the barn event in the fellowship hall, which was nice but it didn’t bring out a lot of people from the community,” Wells said. “This is a good way to allow more people to experience the joy of Christmas.”

The event drew about 500 cars last year, he added.

“We’ve had good success with the drive-thru,” Wells said. “It’s free of charge. It’s something that helps make the Christmas season more enjoyable.”

Wells said he appreciates the support that the Nativity scene has received and the volunteers who make the program possible.

“It’s rewarding to see the cars coming through and seeing people braving the elements to come out and participate,” Wells said. “Many people from the community come out and get involved. We have many different groups and churches that come out and get involved.

“It helps break down the barriers that we sometimes erect between the different groups.”

Volunteer Britta Sherman of First Lutheran Church in Lake Geneva agreed that a live Nativity event brings the community together.

“It’s positive outreach, bringing the word of God to people and sharing the true meaning of Christmas with people in the area,” Sherman said. “It’s something the entire family can come see. The more people who come see it, the more blessed we are.”

First Lutheran will offer three performances with music and narration between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14.

“The Nativity scene is acted out in a live performance,” she said. “Afterwards, we have coffee, cocoa and refreshments.”

A local farmer and church member offers the use of his animals for the Nativity event.

“He brings in goats and sheep for the display,” Sherman said. “Of course, they’re fenced in, but you can still reach in and pet them.”

The setting is more rural for the annual Nativity scene organized by Sugar Creek Lutheran Church, east of Janesville in Walworth County.

Church members will host two barn services Tuesday, Dec. 24, at Maple Lawn Farms on County Highway A near County Highway H in the town of Sugar Creek.

The service will feature a live Nativity scene with children from the church, as well as live animals.

“We usually have donkeys, chickens and goats. The audience sits on bales of hay, and we bring in the kids,” said Summer Markham, youth and family ministry director at Sugar Creek Lutheran Church. “There’s singers and readers and children and youth who present the play. We have children who are 3 years old all the way up to high school age.”

The animals are donated by the owners of Maple Lawn Farms, as well as residents in the community.

With only about two weeks to go until the annual service, preparations are in high gear, Markham said.

“We are underway. We have the lineup posted. The costumes are getting washed and pressed,” she said. “It’s pretty well set. It’s a nice service.

“After the event, we offer cookies and there’s a free-will offering.”

“This is a great event. The children like acting and playing the parts and seeing what it was like during that time,” Markham said. “It brings the community together.”

The service is well-attended, Markham said.

“The last couple of years, we reached maximum capacity,” she said. “Last year, it was standing room only. We get at least a hundred people attending the services.”

The barn Nativity service put on by English Settlement United Methodist Church is on a larger scale, but the idea is much the same as in Sugar Creek.

“I think we have about 1,000 people attend,” said Sharon Schimek of English Settlement church. “We do 10 shows, and the barn can hold about a hundred people with people sitting on the hay bales.”

The service is held at the Squire Farm, 26715 Church Road, near Burlington.

“We try to get as many people from the church as we can. We have a live baby in a carriage. We have people who do the readings and people who perform as shepherds and angels,” Schimek said. “We also have cookies and ciders while people are waiting for the next show.”

The barn service has been held for 37 years, making it a family tradition for many.

“Some people who were in the Nativity scene when they were kids come back and they bring their kids,” Schimek said. “So for some people, this goes on for several generations.”

“It’s exciting to see all the people come and watch,” she said. “It’s a good way for us to give back to the community and share the story of Christmas with everyone.”

At Chapel on the Hill outside of Lake Geneva, visitors are invited to share the Nativity with a cast that includes actors portraying Mary and Joseph, the three wise men, Zechariah, angels and shepherds.

Chapel on the Hill’s Christian Arts Ministry will present a live Nativity scene Friday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Christian Arts Center located near Wisconsin Highway 50 and Cisco Road in the town of Geneva, across the street from the Geneva Ridge Resort.

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The Nativity scene will feature the story of Jesus’ birth with music and narration. There is no cost to attend, but attendees are asked to reserve their seats by calling (262) 245-9122.

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