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Thursday, Dec. 05, 2013

Johnson County churches bring nativity to life

Special to The Star

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Live nativity Two Johnson County churches will stage live nativity scenes on Friday and Saturday. Southminster Presbyterian Church at 6306 Roe Ave. in Prairie Village will have 80 actors portraying 10 scenes from the Gospels from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Tours will start every 10 minutes and last about 20 minutes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 143rd 15915 W 143rd St. in Olathe will have a live nativity from 6 to 7 p.m. both days. The church also will have hundreds of nativity sets on display from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday and 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday. An orchestra and chorale Christmas pageant will be held at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and a bronze bell choir will perfrom from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

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The Christmas spirit will be alive this weekend, quite literally.

Two Johnson County churches are inviting the public to experience the nativity through live representations of the Biblical story. Both Olathe’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southminster Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village will hold their live nativity displays on Friday and Saturday.

At the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 143rd 15915 W 143rd St., church members have been working all week to set up the stable and manger display outside. Jed Porter, a professional artist who worked for Hallmark for 19 years, redesigned the set last year using raw, unfinished lumber to give the set a more rustic and aged look. The set more accurately represents how our culture views the manger scene, he said.

“I wanted it to look like what people would expect a manger to look like,” he said.

Inside the stable, visitors will find Ben and Karen Divine and their 7-month old daughter, Olivia, playing Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. Being a part of the nativity scene is something the family views as way to get more in touch with the Christmas season, Karen said. Standing outside for a few hours on a cold December night may not seem ideal, but she said a small heater hidden by the manger helps keep the family comfortable.

“I think it’s a good experience to get ourselves into the mood of the real meaning of Christmas and why we celebrate,’” she said. “Hopefully those around viewing can get the spirit in their hearts.”

People aren’t the only live actors in the scene. Jackie Davey and her daughter, Mercedes, will bring a steer, a heifer and two goats from their home near Osawatomie. The family has been providing animals for the nativity for four years, and Davey said interacting with children — some of whom have never seen a live cow or goat — has made the experience rewarding.

Even though hauling four animals 45 minutes to Olathe may be a bit of work, Davey said she and her daughter have made being a part of the nativity a family tradition that they hope to continue.

“We joked that someday it will be Mercedes bringing her kids up here with animals,” she said.

The LDS program also features hundreds of nativity displays inside with themes like “hand-made” and “whimsical,” as well as angel figures from other sets, said Karin Thomas, the church’s public affairs director. There will also be performances from the Kansas Bronze Bell choir and the church choir and orchestra. The church will be open from 6 to 9 both Friday and Saturday evenings but the live nativity runs only from 6 to 7 p.m.

On the same nights in Prairie Village, the Southminster Presbyterian Church at 6306 Roe Ave. will hold its walk-through nativity, Journey to Bethlehem, from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

The event features more than 80 actors portraying 10 scenes from the nativity story. Visitors follow Mary and Joseph as they travel from the census in Nazareth to the manger in Bethlehem.

In other scenes, King Herod dispatches the three wise men to find the baby Jesus, shepherds talk about seeing a star and angles preach the news of Christ’s birth.

Erin Hill Metcalf, coordinator of the program, said the scenes are elaborate, featuring chickens and other animals, and workers making things from fishing nets to bread — all inside the church.

Hill Metcalf, who played Mary a few years ago when she was pregnant, said it takes most of the congregation to pull off the production, but seeing how people react to the different scenes makes all the hard work worth it.

“I love watching the kids’ faces,” she said. “It’s 3-D for kids who live in a 2-D world.”

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