West Parish Church Brings Live Nativity Scene to Andover Community
It's a dark night. There's a woman and man and a donkey entering town but there's no room for them at the inn. So they settle into a stable where the woman gives birth -- under the stars, among the shepherds and animals in the field.
It's an old familiar story, but the members of West Parish Church of Andover, make sure the retelling is as genuine as possible. Thirty four years ago, a church member brought the script for a living nativity to the minister of West Parish. It was then that the first group of church members decided to put on the pageant outdoors.
A cast of many re-enact Jesus' birth -- in a field, under the roof of a wooden stable, with live animals. The public is invited to attend the free half-hour performance as well as photograph the living nativity scene and enjoy refreshments in fellowship hall following the pageant.
Jan Peters, Chair of Ministry of Worship, said that it is very important that their Christmas pageant be held outside. "It's an essential part of the atmosphere. Being under the night sky, with shadows cast by the moonlight, stars twinkling overhead, a stonewall backdrop,and a real swaddled baby -- sometimes crying -- makes the experience much more authentic."
It takes 30-40 volunteers to create that experience for the 100-150 people in the community who come every year and stand out in the cold, or sometimes snow. Besides the planning group, there are people needed to take care of the advertising, costume maintenance, set assembly, field clearing, makeup, choir scheduling, cast recruitment, animal procurement, and organization of the children. Free refreshments of hot soup, cocoa and desserts are also offered in Fellowship Hall, across the street from the field, following the performance, so additional volunteers are needed to bake and serve.
West Parish gets some help from the community to put on this extravagant presentation. For many years, Ironstone Farm in Andover has provided animals, all trained to be around people. The farm also supplies the volunteers, who dress as shepherds, to handle the animals. In addition, one church member enlisted the help of someone she knew who raised goats and was also happy to provide them.
"I particularly appreciate the pageant because it's all done by lay people," Pastor Rev. Tom McMillan commented. "The fact that they've kept the tradition alive for 34 years is a tribute to their commitment and hard work to bring the good news of Christmas to the Andover community. In fact, the one year when weather prevented us from holding the pageant, we received many messages from our neighbors telling us how disappointed they were."
"It's truly a miracle that we get this done every year," said Peters. "It takes many hands and a lot of faith, but it has become a West Parish church tradition."
After three decades of this hard work, there has been some burnout. But that's when a call goes out to recruit new volunteers -- who sometimes recruit non-members to participate in the event.
"This is our way of not only reaching out to the community, but to also offer a reminder to all ages of the real reason for the season," said Peters.
"The pageant sticks close to the gospel accounts of Jesus' birth," said McMillan. "It does include some legends that we have grown up around during Christmas time, like the Little Drummer Boy and the Fourth Wise Man who shows up at the end. When those characters step forward, though, the narrator makes it clear that we're off in the realm of legend. And that gives the pageant a kind of integrity that I applaud."
Editor's Note: The historic West Parish Garden cemetery arch once again becomes the entrance to Bethlehem on Saturday evening at 5:00 on December 22nd. All are welcome to attend.
You can reach Jan Peters and Tom McMillan at the church office at 978-475-3528 or firstname.lastname@example.org.