PEQUOT LAKES -- The live nativity's realness, derived from the presence of real characters (including animals), and its solemn simplicity make it an intense and memorable experience.
Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes is hosting this event, now in its third year. Five to six churches in the Pequot Lakes area are involved, each doing its part to bring the enactment to the community, said coordinator Deneen Kloster.
Thanks to Our Savior's Lutheran Church parishioner Donna Olson, live nativity characters are authentically costumed, adding to the realness of the scenes. And they speak to visitors. They may meet a visitor's gaze, while asking in earnest, "Have you seen the light of the world?" (A question to which a visiting second-grader last year responded, "Yes! I see it right there, behind the camel!")
"Everyone gets a kick out of Dilbert the donkey," said Kloster. "He has a perfectly geometric white T across his back. It reminds me of a cross. ...
Shepherd Jenni Derksen and Roman Centurion Greg Hellie directed visitors Chuck, Ruth and Laura Messerschmidt to start their journey looking for the Christ child at last year's live nativity at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes.
"We pull players from different churches," Kloster said. "There's one Methodist wise man, a Catholic wise man and a Lutheran wise man. ... Darren Blanck is one of the wise men. He was just a wise man in 'Amahl and the Night Visitors,' an operetta directed by Lauren Nickisch, in Pequot. He's been in Oxford studying theater, so he's one of our most seasoned characters. But not everyone (in the live nativity) has studied at Oxford."
"Take this opportunity," Kloster said, "to hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ's birth. Join your fellow travelers on a search for the true Light of the world. On your travels you'll meet the sinister King Herod, the angels of joy and praise, the shepherds of peace and love, the wise men of faith, light and humility. You'll hear the innkeeper say that there is no room in the inn, and finally find Joseph and Mary who share the news of Jesus, the Light of the world."
Upon their arrival, visitors are shepherded, in groups of eight, to see King Herod. He tells them he wants to honor the babe, too, and asks them if they know of the Light. Next are two angels who say, "Have you been talking to Herod? Don't trust him. He thinks he's the king of the Jews. He's not."
"One angel is returning from the first year," Kloster said. "She used to be the school nurse in the Pequot schools. She's retired now. Her name is Shirley Langland. She made such good eye contact. People would come out and say, 'That was just like 'Touched by an Angel!''
"Then they go to shepherds in the fields and they tell how the angels came to them. They're all in search of the Light. In the last room they visit the Magi," Kloster said. "Then they go outside to the parsonage, which is the inn. 'More people looking for this Light of the world,' the innkeeper says. 'There's no room!' "
"But it isn't until the pilgrims journey to the stable that the layers of the story take on a meaning far greater than the sum of the parts," Kloster wrote in a news release.
"A small outbuilding, usually used for storage and lutefisk cooking, was (and will be again this year) magically transformed into a meek and quiet place. The sweet smell of the hay alone could mentally transport the visitor to a manger scene almost 2,000 years ago. The picture was completed by an authentic donkey and characters dressed the part of Mary and Joseph. The cold air seemed to frame the nativity moment in stillness. Then, Mary and Joseph's warm words of encouragement proclaiming the Savior's birth filled the stable air with hope and light."
"Over 180 people made the chilly trek toward Pequot Lakes' manger scene Wednesday night," Kloster wrote in 1998, following the first live nativity. "Pequot area churches, including St. Alice's Catholic Church, Grace Methodist, Our Savior's Lutheran, Gloria Dei Lutheran and Pequot Baptist pulled their talents together to organize this first-time event."
Last year, the number of visitors rose to more than 265.
"We have two sets of Marys and Josephs," Kloster said. "Because it gets cold and so we rotate them."
Counting the Roman soldiers, the Magi, the inn keeper, the angels and the shepherds, there are 12 cast members. The ushering shepherds, most of whom are teens, Kloster said, add to the number.
"One thing about this project is, everyone wants to participate," said Kloster. "That first year was more difficult because they didn't know what they were getting talked into. Now they call me. It's adults, too, and businessmen. They'll say, 'Well, if you don't have anyone taking that part yet. ...' A lot of these people, their family members come from distant towns to see them do this. It's pretty important. ..."
It takes about fifteen minutes to witness the complete re-enactment. "Little kids can go through it," Kloster said. "Even my 2-year-old we carry through it."
Christmas cookies, candy canes, hot cider and coffee await visitors after completing this pilgrimage to the reinvented Bethlehem.
Visit the live nativity between 5:30 and 8 p.m. Wednesday. Our Savior's Lutheran Church is at 98 Front St. in Pequot Lakes.
"There is no charge," Kloster writes, "but you'll have an opportunity to leave a canned food item at the base of the manger for the local food shelf."
And take a complimentary candy cane for the trip back home to enjoy as you contemplate the experience.
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