Strathmore Ward felt unsure about continuing their multi-year community Christmas Crèche display: A Night in Bethlehem. The amount of work and time commitment required from members of the ward is large.
It could have been left as a wonderful, but past, event, with all its memories stored up by those blessed. However, the Bishop and Ward Council decided to make it happen, understanding the power of an event that celebrates the Light of the World and provides a rare, peaceful, Spirit-centered moment in the Holiday season. Still more, the Ward was wanting more social events to share these kinds of things with their larger community, adding to the available child and youth-friendly community offerings. A Night in Bethlehem was a natural inclusion in that larger vision.
The Strathmore Standard writer Monique Massiah described the event this way, in an article entitled Local Church opens doors to view Nativity scenes:
“Early on November 23 hundreds of Grade 2 students from Westmount School participated in a scavenger hunt and felt a little bit of Christmas cheer in the air, one month before the holidays when Strathmore’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened their doors for the public to view a collection of Nativity Scenes from around the world.
‘It’s open to the public to have anybody come and look at all of the displays that our members of our congregation, the members of the community that we know and their friends bring,’ explained Bishop Cory Fisk. ‘We have them from all over the world.’
Fisk explained that organizers began the Saturday before preparing the displays.
‘This represents hundreds of hours of getting the tables set, and the lighting all arranged properly, then everybody brings their nativities and we set them all up for display,’ he said.
For several years, the local church has hosted the event for the community, where the public can come in and view miniature and life-sized replicas of the Nativity Scene. After a one-year absence, the event is back.
During the following three days, the Nativity Scenes were also open to students from schools throughout the community to come and tour and members of the public daily.
‘This year we have about 250 nativities and again from all different shapes and sizes from 12-feet high, all the way down to the size of a walnut and we have several that are labelled international. They have been purchased in different countries. If you look at the tables you’ll see from all over the world where they have been purchased and brought here for display,’ he said.
With Christmas, only one month away, the Nativity scenes are a good reminder of the meaning of Christmas and community.
“That’s why we do it before December, we try to do it around this time to help get everybody in the spirit of Christmas,” said Fisk. “We are a Christian faith and this is about the nativities and the birth of the Savior. There are many Christians and non-Christians that are just curious that also come.”
The entire event culminated on the evening of November 25 with a carol festival held in the church’s chapel where there were local artists, choirs and performers and participants sang songs and Christmas carols.
Of the more than 490 attendees, only about 25% were LDS. It was mentioned that “Two senior ladies came and literally took almost two hours, looking at the display. They lingered, studying each Nativity set and seemed to not want to leave. They whispered when they spoke to each other and commented how they knew this was a sacred space. It was wonderful watching them enjoy the Spirit.”
There were several Church members who helped set up the display. Over the course of the three days, the Nativity was open, they would stop randomly, just sit in the display and ponder throughout their day. In many ways, it felt like the Temple. They said they needed the spiritual 'recharge' time.
Bishop Fisk’s favorite moment: “On one of the days we had several Kindergarten classes show up at the same time. They were very excited to walk around the display but they were very good about not touching anything. One little guy looked carefully at each set and said, ‘Who is that baby?’ to his teacher. The teacher responded, ‘That is Jesus’. The little guy was quiet for a little while and then asked the teacher, ‘Is he real?’ The teacher said, ‘Oh, yes, he is real.’ He was quiet for a little while longer and then he said, ‘What happened to him?’. I did not hear the response by the teacher, but what was witnessed to me was the Spirit speak to a child something special about that little baby, to prompt him to ask who he was, if he was real and most importantly “what happened to him”. I shared this story with our Ward on Sunday in Sacrament meeting and asked them to ponder the same question from a 5-year-old child indeed “What happened to him?’'
With several yearly events, Strathmore Ward will no doubt enjoy sharing their joy in life, along with their profound love of the Savior, through community-wide social and service events.
How we need our friends and neighbors, as well as our families, always and especially in such times as these.