GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 7, 2009

Nativity to come alive in Manchester after all

By Jonathan Phelps

MANCHESTER — The Christmas story will come to life after all in Manchester this holiday season — just not on town property.

After a proposal from the First Parish Church to hold a live Nativity scene on Town Common as part of the church's Christmas Eve family service got shot down in November by the town's selectmen, support for the church's efforts to bring Christmas alive began pouring in, organizer Caroline Cheshire said yesterday.

Members of the Manchester community — including the Masons, the American Legion and Sacred Heart Parish, along with multiple private citizens — came forward and offered to host the Nativity scene. And that opened new doors for Cheshire and others who first sought to have the live Nativity on town land but right in front of the church.

Now, First Parish Church, along with the First Baptist Church and Sacred Heart Parish in town, will all host a community-wide Christmas Eve celebration at 4 p.m. on Dec. 24 in the Smith family's garden at 32 School St. — complete with a live Nativity.

This location was chosen because of its central location all three churches in town, Cheshire said.

The original proposed scene for the Town Common included the roles of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and a donkey. The revitalized presentation is now expected to include two goats and two sheep but Cheshire is looking for more.

The idea to hold the live Nativity on the Town Common, which the First Parish Church essentially shares with the town as a front lawn, was rejected by selectmen because of potential church-state legal concerns, and due to what the selectmen called a lack of information provided by the written proposal.

But a number of people and organizations, including some letter writers to the Times, decried the selectmen's decision, and urged support for the church and its living Nativity project.

"We got such an incredible response from the community that we decided to open the event up to the whole community," said Cheshire. "The three churches are reaching out to the whole town to come and share the Nativity."

Cheshire said she and other event organizers thought this would be a great way for the three churches and the town to celebrate the Christmas spirit, in that it will give all children in the community — no matter their religious background — the chance to experience the birth of Christ in a re-enactment.

"We are inviting everyone no matter if they believe in Jesus Christ or not," said Cheshire.

The event will start at the separate churches where those interested in participating will pick up candles and carol sheets. Each church community will then march with their lighted candles and sing Christmas carols to the School Street location, where the live Nativity scene will be set up.

"For that moment we will come together and celebrate the Nativity together," Cheshire said.

Cheshire said the event is planned for 4 p.m. so the members of each church can make it back to their respective services in plenty of time, with First Parish Church services set for 5 p.m., Sacred Heart Parish at 5:30 p.m. and First Baptist Church at 6. No parking will be allowed on School Street, those interested in attending should park at Sacred Heart Parish or Town Hall parking lot.

Cheshire said she's enthusiastic about the way the Nativity proposal is turning out.

"The rejection of our original proposal was disappointing," she said, "but this event involving the whole town will be much more positive."

Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3447, or via e-mail at gt_reporter@gloucestertimes.com.