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By the Way: Five churches create a live Nativity


Live Nativity scenes are popping up all over the globe. Even for those of the most hardened of hearts the living reminder of Christ’s birth can create a moment of reverence and peace – the simplicity, the power, the sheer joy of the birth of a child.

Members of the five churches belonging to the Palisades Area Lutheran Ministries have joined hands – and talents and energies—to create a live Nativity this Christmas season.

Fortunately, they have the perfect natural backdrop – the 200-year-old wagon sheds that are part of the Durham Lutheran Church complex high above the Durham Valley.

That’s why I was walking toward the make-do stable with the Angel Gabriel (aka Joe Hlavaty) and Mary (aka Becky Praster) one cold December morning. We wanted to check it out before the Nativity scene is set up.

Instead of staging just one scene, parts of the ancient Biblical story will be depicted in individual sheds as the story progresses, “There will be a narrator,” Praster said, “and each successive scene will be spotlighted.”

The event will offer two shows, beginning at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m, this Saturday. Participating churches in addition to Durham are St. Peter’s in Riegelsville, St. Luke’s in Ferndale, Upper Tinicum in Upper Black Eddy and Trinity in Pleasant Valley.

Pastor Bradley Gow of St. Peter’s said the five congregations are small and are trying to work together. “We’ve all faced a lot of challenges, especially during COVID,” he said, “and we’re trying to share resources and move forward.”

Pastor James Heckman, who is bridge pastor at Durham, said, “Despite a shortage of full-time pastors, we have done a lot of joint things, such as combined confirmation classes and youth socials.”

Trinity Lutheran sponsored a summer Bible school and picnic for all five churches. Now Durham is hosting the live Nativity, and the other churches will each take on future events.

Lynn Gaun, who is coordinating the Nativity, said gathering actors, costumes and props and putting them all together takes a couple months.

She said the cast will be a mixture of adults and children. In the past, she said, the church has done some live Nativities but only with children as actors.

Tom Praster, Gaun said, will be in charge of getting the animals from Last Chance Ranch in Richland Township. It’s his wife, Becky, who will play the part of Mary. The Rev. Gow will be Joseph.

Shepherds will be Jim Altemose, Clayton Helfrich and Landon Helfrich. Serving as the three wisemen will be Walt Gaibler, Matt Mueller and Jim Nilsen. Ben Naska will play the innkeeper’s role.

Mark Harwick will play Isaiah and Susanne Mauer will be an angel. Gaun said there also will be “a multitude of little angels” from the Durham church’s Care-A-Lot Preschool. The church choir will also participate.

Gaun said she is expecting a big turnout from the five churches. There is no charge for the event although free will donations will be accepted and are earmarked for Last Chance Ranch, a nonprofit organization in Richland Township that rescues and rehabilitates horses and other domestic animals.

Gaun also said warm hats, mittens and gloves will be collected and donated to the Advocates for the Homeless of Upper Bucks in Quakertown.

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