This past Sunday I travelled to Niagara Falls with my two daughters and my friend Kathy to check out The Queensway Free Methodist Church’s live nativity. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as we pulled into the church parking lot but it turned out to be one of the most authentic, peaceful and joyful Christmas experiences I have had – EVER.
A small Bethlehem was constructed on the front lawn of the church complete with an inn, shepherds tending their flock (both sheep and goats), a donkey, a llama (no camels to be found in southern Ontario), the three wise men and of course Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. My girls were delighted to explore the village with treats in hand for the animals and they were warmly greeted by all the actors. It was like stepping into this lovely bubble of peace as cars whizzed by on the busy street.
Shortly after arriving I was introduced to Pastor Tom Gurnick and his wife Jan (a shepherd at the time) who told me, “We put this on every year as a gift to our community to show the true meaning of Christmas and to encourage people to learn more about Jesus and who He is.”
From that point on Jan became my tour guide introducing me to all the key players. Al and Elizabeth Rossiter and Wayne Bush were the three wise parishioners who got the ball rolling 33 years ago. Al’s brother was a pastor in Moncton, NB and had a done a live outdoor nativity at his church and Elizabeth thought it sounded like a neat idea, “We have good grounds on a well-travelled road so I asked the board and we decided to try it for a year.”
Wayne and Al built everything themselves – the manger, the fences and the inn. They also contacted local farmers for kid friendly animals. As Al told me, “We thought we would do it once and 30 years later we’re still doing it.”
This is no small undertaking and it takes every member of the congregation to make it happen. I asked Wayne about the logistics of it all, “We are about 40-50 people but everyone is committed to this and everyone is involved. Putting up the inn, manger and shed takes about two hours and 17 guys help out.”
Those who don’t sign up for a ½ hour acting shift are in the kitchen feeding the volunteers, helping in wardrobe with costume changes, serving cookies and cider in the lobby or greeting visitors and handing out candy canes. Wayne spoke to the impact this day has on their church family, “There is a bonding that takes place among the people in the church because all of them are involved. We are here all afternoon and guess what? We’re having such a great time together. ”
I spoke with Peter Dychtiar and his daughter Shayna who live in the community but are not members of the church, “Wayne was my wife’s teacher in high school and we came here every year with our kids and so we wanted to be a part of it because it’s a special thing.”
Jan also told me about a young woman who has visited the live nativity every year since she was two years old. This year she attended with her own two-year old daughter.
Told you the story behind The Story was pretty neat. I know I have not captured the beauty or warm fuzzies of our afternoon at The Queensway – one of which was seeing my girls dressed up as an angel and a shepherd during their behind the scenes tour of the costume room – so perhaps you should mark it on your calendar and check it out for yourself next year.
Merry Christmas FMCland!
May your Christmas be authentic, peaceful and joyful.