Christmas lore has it there was no crib for a bed in that manger 2000 years ago — and there certainly was no fuel tank, spare tires, air hoses, and wrenches.
But as members of Headingley United Church discovered recently, retelling the Nativity story in a congregation member’s large machine shop opens up all realms of possibility.
Congregation members Jane and John Van Massenhoven hosted the show in their farm shop. They also contributed their menagerie of chickens, doves, and rabbits, plus a goat, a pony and Tony, a magnificent Narragansett turkey, to stand in for the furred and feathered creatures usually associated with the Christmas story.
The whole idea was to tell this story outside church walls in hopes of attracting people who might not otherwise hear it at church, said John, a hobby farmer and mediation lawyer, vice-chair of the church board — and one of the wise men at the late-November performances.
They also wanted to bring live animals on to the set, because animals are such an important part of the original story, he said.
“So many people forget the Nativity story altogether related to Christmas. But I think they also forget the fact that God made a very intentional choice in having Jesus born amongst animals to show that we’re all God’s creatures.”
The machine shop was outfitted with a stage at one end, and furnished with tables and bales for visitors. The Van Massenhoven’s critters were safely housed in their cages or pens near the stage, and the couple’s two sons Blake, 11, and Luke, nine, and other children kept watch over the four-legged members of the cast.
Many churches are looking for new ways and places to tell this story, and this was a perfect setting, said Rev. Joanne Kury, minister of the 60-plus-member congregation and part of the production.
“What it is for me, is bringing the Nativity story home again,” she said. “I think we’ve taken the Nativity story out of the barn for far too long. We’ve dressed it up and cleaned it up and put it on Christmas cards and we sing about it, but we don’t often stop and put ourselves back in this place.”
The living Nativity, staged on the first Sunday of Advent, was also a way to revive their church’s dinner theatre company. Headingley has hosted events for 30 years and it’s a part of who it is, says Kury.
It’s also been an important fundraiser for the small congregation and its 100-year-old church located just off the Trans-Canada Highway, and with all the talent available in it for costume and set making and script writing, all agreed this was a wonderful thing to try this year.
The production was also a fundraiser for the congregation. A flood caused about $50,000 damage to their church basement last fall, leaving Headingley United in quite a financial lurch without insurance to cover the repairs.
About 130 visitors came each of both days for fellowship and food served by church members, then they settled down on bales to listen to the story of Back to the Manger told in script co-written by congregation members Margaret Mills and Glenda Paterson.
Tiny babies bawled in the background as Kury remarked how the story of Jesus’ birth is one about family and community and finding the Divine in a common place. They hope that staging a nativity this way makes the story feel closer to home, she said.
“This was a birth that happened to people who weren’t ready for a baby. They were away from home and away from supports, and the reason they wound up in a barn was because they couldn’t afford anything posher. We forget that.”