For more than 10 years, First United Methodist Church in Lombard, Illinois, presented a Live Nativity for the community. But seven years ago, church staff and members took a hiatus and instead staged a dinner-theater musical featuring a multi-generational cast.
While well attended, First Church members and staff decided this year they wanted to reach even more people in the community.
"We met in March and discussed ways we could do this," said Pamela Lohman, the church's media/public relations and worship director. "We decided we wanted to bring the Live Nativity back. However, this time we invited sister churches in Lombard to co-host the event with us — including Calvary Episcopal, Holy Trinity Lutheran and St. John's Lutheran."
Located at a major intersection in Lombard, First Church will host the event Dec. 10 on its front lawn. All four churches are helping with planning, making soup and donating bread for the post-Nativity supper. Each will supply adult and children's choir members to help present the story. Much planning and preparation go into the event. "Consisting of 11 volunteers, the planning folks represent teams such as electrical, sound, lighting, set construction, costume design, dinner/refreshments, music and so forth," said Lohman.
Animals in cast
On the day of the Live Nativity, those attending will see and hear the story of Jesus' birth — complete with Joseph leading a donkey and one of the three kings leading a camel. Shepherds will have goats and sheep on tethers.
The animals will be available for the children and young-at-heart to pet before and after the presentation. "While we've had live animals in past presentations, we are very excited about the camel because this is the first time we've been able to include a camel," said Lohman.
Rounding out the cast are Mary, the angel Gabriel and a host of intergenerational angels, ages four and up. The cast will sing five songs with attendees invited to join the singing of two. A song sheet with lyrics will also provide information for each participating church — name, address, website and phone number, along with service information for Advent, Christmas and New Year's Eve, Lohman said.
Following the final song, attendees will enjoy a light supper and cookies in First Church's fellowship hall. "Pastors and representatives from each church will welcome folks as they come inside," Lohman said. "We want to be as welcoming as possible so people can see the Christian and Christmas spirit as we should live it every day."
This spirit has touched lives through the live nativities as evidenced by stories recalled by Lohman.
"A few years back, our church received a letter and a check from an attorney who represented a Lombard woman, Evelyn Cox, who had recently passed away. She left a very generous sum of money in her will to First UMC Lombard. While Cox did not attend our church, her letter related how she attended the Live Nativity each year and how much she looked forward to the presentation. The Nativity — and the hot chocolate fellowship that followed — was a highlight of her Christmas season! Her generous donation was her thanks to First UMC for sharing this event with the community year after year."
Another Lombard resident, Marjorie Paine, also loved the Nativity story. While not a member of any church, when Paine died her will directed the estate's administrator to donate 15 percent of her estate to First Church.
"Marjorie lived very modestly but was able to donate a significant amount to the church. That donation allowed us to pay off the mortgage that was taken out to renovate our sanctuary," said Lohman. "These generous women attended the Live Nativity, ate cookies and drank hot chocolate with the angels and kings year after year. We were blessed to have crossed paths with these amazing ladies."
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.
Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, November–December, 2017.