Drive-through dwell cribs are tailored for a COVID-19 Christmas get together

(RNS) – At the Nativity Scene display outside Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana this year, the baby will be placed in a manger surrounded by friendly animals – with the exception of donkeys. You bite. In the past, camels were known to kick.

The Church’s Lafayette Living Nativity, which has been home to Faith since 1991, may be one of the few Christmas traditions to happen in the usual way during a pandemic year.

“We have practiced for this moment for the past 30 years,” said Rev. Steve Viars, senior pastor at Faith, who estimates the event saw a quarter of a million attendees during that time.

Live nativity scenes, in which visitors drive through a series of scenes – and sometimes, especially in warmer areas, retelling the biblical story of Jesus’ birth – have been popular in the United States for years. Actors from parishes and often live animals are accompanied by the narration of the story on an included CD, accessed via QR code on smartphones or broadcast on a low frequency transmitter.

Guests line up to watch the 2015 Lafayette Living Nativity, hosted by Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana. Photo courtesy Faith Ministries

Other churches offer a slightly less “live” version that visitors can drive through and illustrate the story on painted backdrops.

They all found their moment in a year when wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding indoor gatherings have become the norm.

“People still need the message of Christmas, the true meaning, hope and love. And how can we safely provide that for them? “Said the Rev. Jonathan Andersen, pastor of the Harvest Point United Methodist Church in Locust Grove, Georgia, adjusting their annual living Nativity to Bethlehem to share this story as safely as possible.

The church is scaling down the number of scenes and the length of the walking tour, with guides taking small groups past a petting zoo and the city of Bethlehem, a semi-permanent building on the church’s campus. The number of masked guests in each group is limited and the overall event takes place over two days, December 12th and 13th, not three. The prayer will then go outside, around the campfire “in a detached way,” instead of ending in church.

This year, Andersen said: “The gift is that everything is different and people are open to change.”

Instead of the usual hot chocolate, the church is giving away a woodcut Christmas ornament. Church staff considered engraving the year, but after reflecting on the past 12 months, Andersen said with a laugh, “I think we will get off the ornament in 2020.”

Advent Lutheran Church members participate in a living birth of Christ in the Church in Columbus, Ohio in December 2019. Photo by Rev. Aaron Layne

The Living Nativity by the roadside at Advent Lutheran Church, a congregation affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Columbus, Ohio, is in its 50th year. At a busy three-way intersection overlooking City Hall, Church, and a golf course – the corner of “Government, God, and Golf” – the event typically features painting stations, hot chocolate, and performances by the Singing Buckeyes, a men’s a cappella -Group according to Rev. Aaron Layne.

The surrounding county has been badly hit by the coronavirus and Columbus is under a recommendation to stay home. But, said the pastor, that doesn’t mean that Christmas is canceled.

Advent Lutheran has postponed its event to December 23 after the contract was canceled and expanded its single manager scene with a donkey named Shrek to six drive-through scenes from the Christmas story on its property.

The Church has tried to create thoughtful scenes with a securely detached actor like Mary delivering the Magnificat, as well as scenes that can be performed by a single household: a family of six will capture the scene in which a multitude of The Heavenly Army appears to the shepherds.

“To be honest, there is disappointment and beauty at the same time,” said Layne.

Guests look at animals at Advent Lutheran Church Live Nativity in December 2019 at the Church in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Rev. Aaron Layne

“I think it is a reminder that nothing – no sin, no COVID-19, no years like 2020 – can stop God’s love from coming and being with us,” he said. “Christmas is God’s love and redemption and the Word made flesh, and it doesn’t stop there. In fact, I think it’s more important now to do that. “

In neighboring Indiana, Faith cut out a few scenes from his Lafayette Living Nativity to accommodate more cars, as the usual pass-through option is no longer available. Over the years it has been expanded to tell not only the birth of Jesus, but also the story of the Garden of Eden and the death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus. Hundreds of people as well as camels, donkeys and sheep now make up the cast.

“It was just a wonderful way for us to share the gospel at Christmas time,” said Viars.

“This year there is no question that there is a hunger for truth. There is a hunger for joy. There’s a hunger for a message to rely on in these uncertain times, but also for fun family activities that are safe. “

And in the truest sense of 2020, Mary, Joseph, and the others will be wearing face masks. “The nice thing about doing it in Lafayette in the winter is you need a mask, a scarf, so you’re bundled up anyway,” Viars said.

The biting donkeys can also be given masks.

“It could be time for the donkeys in 2020,” he said.

Walk-in guests interact with the performers in the Bethlehem Market during Lafayette Living Nativity 2015 hosted by Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana. Photo courtesy Faith Ministries

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