A True Nativity

13 12 2011

This is another guest post of a great nativity scene outside St John’s Church, Whitley Bay. If you’re up that way do pop by and see it. Thanks to Val for writing it. Revd. Carla Hall is the minister up in those northern climes and doing a brilliant job. Have a look.


During Advent the churches in the North Shields and Whitley Bay Circuit are working with the theme of Christmas Present – with how the Christmas story can speak to today’s world. As part of that reflection, we have created a nativity outside St John’s Methodist Church in Whitley Bay.

We looked at contemporary situations where a child is born into poverty, need and homelessness. Photographs and stories of refugee camps across the globe helped us to focus on the wider world, not just our own communities. Many babies make their entrance into such an uncertain and hungry world. Then we came across a photo of a family who hadn’t even reached a camp; their make-shift tent had been pitched just outside, on the fringes of the camp. Therefore they had no access to safe shelter. Another picture showed a very young child carrying water in an old plastic container.


Those people have been brought into the nativity. We made a tent out of tarpaulin to house the family. The baby lies in a plastic box on a wooden crate. Mary and Joseph wear clothes of that culture. We have left the features of the figures as plain wood so that people can imagine a place and context. The young child hovers at the edge of the scene, bringing a precious gift of water – an angel perhaps or a wise person. They all have the minimum of help, shelter and support. Yet the promise of new birth exists and we hope it will speak to our local community of hope and of light in our darkness.



Magpie Mission

10 12 2011

I’ve asked Rachel Parkinson, Superintendent Minister of the Leicester North Circuit (with pastoral charge of (amongst others) of Birstall Methodist Church, three miles north of Leicester City Centre) to write this next blog post. Another variation on the 3D Christmas idea which is really imaginative and innovative. Have a look here. The graphic designer was Jules Richards.


Magpie ministries …

Magpies are well known for stealing glittery bits and bobs.  The internet means that you don’t have to be an amazingly original thinker in order to initiate innovative mission projects.  What you do need is a magpie’s eye for other people’s treasures and the adaptability to know where you can fit them into your own nest.

A gem that caught my eye last year was the “Get in the Picture” scheme which has been developed by the Baptist Union Mission Department.  You can read about it here www.getinthepicture.org.uk but, put simply, churches provide the wherewithal for adults and children to dress up and pose for a nativity picture.  Photos are uploaded onto a main website which contains a variety of materials relating to the Christmas story as well as space for each church to advertise other events.  I’d originally “stolen” this idea from a colleague working with Peterborough Churches Together who had set this up in an empty high street shop.  Back in Birstall, in a church which has a footfall of several hundreds of people through the door every week for community activities, it worked well within our own building.  Being, surely, the only minister with a Men’s Pantomime group in her church led to some wonderful Magi’s costumes being available which really encouraged men to take part.  Over eight sessions we had 135 people participate – over 100 of whom were not “Sunday Church” people.  On each occasion the room was filled with laughter.  One harassed Mum said that, after a stressful week, it was the best thing she could have done to unwind.  Knowing several local families through Messy Church, I saw lots of our photos appear on their Facebook pages.  One of our “Wise Men” has been coming to church regularly since!  Yet still, the idea of getting onto our main shopping street appealed….

 Pictures with depth ….

One year later and our High Street – like so many others – has a few empty shops.  And so began the unexpectedly difficult task of tracking down landlords for permission to display a crop of this year’s photos in one of the windows.  But how to save the exercise from becoming a little twee?  How to add some theological depth?  Then my magpie’s eye spotted Rob Wylie’s Christmas Present idea (see previous post).  Of course, Rob himself is a jewel thief having picked this up originally from vfxhanley.  The Christmas Present project in the North East was long prayed over and prepared for.  However I think that one of the skills for contemporary Christian communities is to be able to work at many varying speeds.  The landlord gave us permission last Tuesday; I cycled round the village last Friday, inviting the pub landlord, a council working crew, a lollipop lady and the staff of our local Tandoori restaurant to take part; a friendly and generous graphic designer got to work over the weekend and the A3 posters are ready to be picked up just one week from getting off the starting blocks.   You can see them here.  They will be on display in the centre of Birstall together with nativity photos featuring 130 residents and the Churches Advertising Network Poster which this year fits brilliantly with the theme http://churchads.net   Having produced the material so quickly, I hope that the mulling, pondering, wondering and discerning will come in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile I have my eye out for the next mission treasure…..

%d bloggers like this: