Urbana nativity production brings new life to old story
Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church members use live animals in retelling of Christ's birth
Urbana may not be the picture-perfect scene for a remake of the Christmas story, but this past frigid Sunday night, members of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church did their best to convey it.
The annual event behind the Urbana Volunteer Fire Department featured church members, animals and audiences for each of the three performances.
"Everything is live," said organizer Carolyn Maher, who came up with the nativity idea 11 years ago. Maher, a Frederick resident, said she had never seen another live nativity in the area, and had never been to one with animals.
Members were receptive to the idea, and a stable was constructed. The first year members worked together to create the recording of the story that includes the story and music.
She said some of her participants had been involved all 11 years, while others were new.
"They say What about rehearsal?'" and I say The first one is the rehearsal!'" she laughed. She said trying to get people together to rehearse was a scheduling impossibility. Instead, the veterans guide the newer people in their appearances in the roughly 20-minute production.
About 30 minutes before the event, two of the three wise men Urbana residents Andy Main and Rod Fry sat holding bejeweled boxes. The two men examined the empty boxes, playfully arguing over which gift they would get to bring: gold, myrrh or frankincense.
Fry said he and his wife were new members in the church and had signed up as a good way to get into the Christmas spirit and focus on what the holiday is about.
Main started the part a few years ago when his wife's father passed away after playing a wiseman for years. He said saw the production as a good way to expose people to different things.
Live animals are involved in the production, rented from Interactive Wildlife, a Thurmont business in association with the Catoctin Zoo. Maher said everyone asks her where she found the camel.
"I got him from the Yellow Pages," she said.
Callan Hahn of Interactive Wildlife brought the camel, donkeys, horned sheep and others wildlife to the event.
Hahn, decked out in a glittery green outfit the production loaned him, said he does about seven or eight live nativities this time of year, some as large as 75 animals with flocks of sheep.
Though the animals are live, Baby Jesus is not. Maher said it was too cold to take a chance with a real baby. In fact, there are almost no children in the production, something she suggested from the beginning.
"The kids have their Sunday School pageant," she said. She wanted to give adults in the congregation to be involved and creative in the Christmas story as well, hence the parade of adult shepherds, angels and other biblical characters that acted out the story.
Maher said the nativity's attendance is weather dependent.
"We have a lot of children come that probably don't get the true reason for Christmas," she said. "If they've heard the story, this makes it come more alive."
The family wasn't the only the animals attracted, as Susan and Chuck Hancock of Urbana, new members of the church, advertised the show as having a camel to 5-year-old son Charlie.
"Kids want to see the camel," Chuck Hancock said. "I want to see the camel and I'm not a kid!"
He said he had put the event on the Villages of Urbana message board, a posting that Urbana resident Betsy Raithel saw. Raithel said she had been to some live nativities when she was a kid and wanted daughter, Everett, to experience it.
She said her favorite part was watching the 3-year-old's reactions as things she had learned in Sunday School came to life.
Everett said her favorite part was the camel.
Hahn, the camel handler, said he controls the large animal during the show. But not all animals are as cooperative, with shepherds sometimes left on "the hill" if their sheep don't feel like moving.
Dolly Staley, a member of the church since 1949, said she's been involved as an angel all 11 years. She accidentally tripped one year during the production.
"So now I am the fallen angel ... that's what they call me," she said wryly.