St. Paul, Howards Grove, Wis., does not just tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Every year since 2003, it shows the story of Jesus’ birth to its community. What started as an idea nearly 20 years ago has turned into a tradition not just for the congregation but for the community as well.
It started when a few members visited a living nativity at a different congregation. From there, the spark of an idea turned into a full-fledged production, involving detailed props, actors, refreshments, and help from nearly 300 volunteers from the congregation each year.
“One of the neat things about this is not just that it’s something we do, but this is what God’s people here want to do,” says Aaron Mueller, pastor at St. Paul. “What makes it humbling is that members are owning the gospel message. They’re not just coming here to church; they want to be the church.”
Volunteers from the congregation built the stable and Bethlehem scene. They’ve made more than 80 costumes, some with fabrics from the Middle East that members brought back from trips. Members bake more than 2,000 cookies to share. Cast members include Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, an angel chorus made up of the choir and school children, and even Roman guards to help control traffic and direct visitors. Visitors are asked to sign the census—that is, the guest book.
Outside, actors and animals portray the nativity story with the assistance of a pre-recorded CD. The 15-minute-long program runs three times an hour over three hours each of the three nights during the first weekend of December. On one night each year, a sign language interpreter signs some of the presentations to help share the Word with more people in the community. Inside, attendees can see a cut-out depiction of Bethlehem, enjoy cookies and refreshments, and peruse a collection of nativity scenes curated from members’ homes. Each year between 1,500 and 2,000 people attend. Since its inception, only two nights were canceled for weather, and it was canceled last year due to COVID-19.
“It’s not just something we do,” says Mueller. “We remember that this message made us who we are. Not only did Jesus come for us, but he came for all and that’s something we want to keep central to our congregation.”
Volume 108, Number 12
Issue: December 2021