Living nativity a tradition at Pa. church for last 51 years

December 19, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Selecting pieces of apparel from piles of robes, sheets, scarves and sashes, Tammy Blose draped one and then another around Jane Strickler Mackey until she was suitably garbed for the role she would play in the Falling Spring Presbyterian Church's living crche.

"I've been doing this since I grew up here," Mackey said. As a child, "I was always the angel sitting on the roof" of the manger, she said.

Sunday night, in a piece of ad hoc casting, Mackey was one of the Three Wise Men.

"We get the people to come in and when they get here we decide who gets what part ... or who fits the costume," said Blose, the church's Christian education director. Friday night, children formed the cast of the Christmas tableau, she said. Saturday, teenagers made up the cast, and Sunday, the final night, it was a mix of adults, adolescents and children who withstood the cold for an hour, Blose said.


"The hour seems very long when it's cold," said Robert Frey, who started the annual event 51 years ago with the late Judge George Eppinger. "I think I've been to every one ... but I wouldn't want to take an oath on that."

"We now have grandchildren of people who took part in the 1950s" taking their turn in the manger, said the church's pastor, the Rev. William H. Harter.

Eight-year-old Hunter Brindle, and Cade Brindle and Sarah Blose, both 6, were keeping the tradition alive, adjusting their halos, donning wings and climbing atop the manger to play angels.

Statues and figurines can beautifully depict the story of Christ's birth, but using living people and animals "crystallizes the incarnational element of Christmas," Harter said. "The Word became flesh and dwelled among us."

Although there was at least one well-bundled infant among those who stopped to see the nativity scene, it was a bit cold to use a real baby for the infant Jesus, so Mary held a doll swathed in a woolly blanket.

The role of Mary went to Laura Schoonover but, in a last-minute casting change, her brother, Ryan, decided he would rather not play Joseph, Blose said. The role instead went to Craig Fowler, she said.

No manger scene is complete without animals. A pair of docile sheep were provided by Keith and Joyce Mellott, while Lynn and Lois Rotz brought a pair of relatively cooperative donkeys for the three-night event, said Brad Hill, the church's youth director.

In past Christmases, alpacas, llamas, cows and ponies have been part of the cast, Frey said.

Working with animals can be unpredictable and Harter said one year a sheep escaped during a blinding snowstorm. Members of the congregation chased it through the church cemetery with one man mistakenly trying to grab what turned out to be a snow-covered tombstone, he said.

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