Nothing says Christmas like a Nativity set

The public is invited to experience a crèche walk at First Lutheran Church, where more than 70 nativity sets are on display through Christmas. Cathy Hay/Albert Lea Tribune

The public is invited to experience a crèche walk at First Lutheran Church, where more than 70 nativity sets are on display through Christmas. Cathy Hay/Albert Lea Tribune

By Cathy Hay

ALBERT LEA — Whether tiny or large, brightly colored or simply white, made of plastic or plaster, the Nativity sets tell the story of Jesus Christ’s birth with no cultural barrier. That’s the idea behind the crèche walk at First Lutheran Church in Albert Lea.

The church celebrates Advent — a Christian time of preparation for celebrating the coming of Jesus — with a weekly series of meditative music and tasty meals during the lunch hour on Wednesdays. When planning this season’s Advent Adventures, Tim O’Shields wanted to complement the sounds and tastes with something visual. O’Shields is director of music, worship and the arts at First Lutheran, and he was looking for ways to connect with the community.

As this unusual crèche shows, these settings of Jesus’ birth tell the Christmas story no matter the language or country. Hazel Senske loaned this set and several others to First Lutheran Church for a special display during Advent. Cathy Hay/Albert Lea Tribune

As this unusual crèche shows, these settings of Jesus’ birth tell the Christmas story no matter the language or country. Hazel Senske loaned this set and several others to First Lutheran Church for a special display during Advent. Cathy Hay/Albert Lea Tribune

“I wanted it to be a full experience,” he said. “I thought crèches — Nativity sets — take you to Bethlehem. There’s something raw and powerful about crèches.”

The result is an impressive and inspirational display of 70-plus Nativity sets in several parts of the church. O’Shields credits Cindy Gilbert with securing the loan of many sets from church members and Julie Lokken for artfully arranging them.

One set is cut from wood and left bare. Others are hand-painted or clear glass. One whimsical set consists of mouse characters.

The crèche that stands out to O’Shields is in the main entrance to the sanctuary. That’s because he and volunteers found it broken in pieces in church storage. Though strewn among several boxes, all the parts were there, including the head to one of the wise men.

“I just knew it was a spectacular set. It had to be restored,” he said.

O’Shields started by gluing pieces back together. Then he fixed nicks in the plaster with spackle. Finally he painted them, mixing colors when needed.

Originally donated by Rodger and Karen Christenson, the set consists of large figures, some standing 18 inches high. As told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, the set includes all the figures from the story: An angel to announce the birth of Christ to shepherds and their flocks, who then visit the humble site where Jesus is found lying in a manger with Mary and Joseph at his side. Wise men on camels follow a star to the Christ child, bringing him gold, frankincense and myrrh, the root of gift-giving at Christmas.

The first-ever Nativity scene recorded in history was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. He was concerned that the meaning of Christmas was becoming lost amidst the ritual of gift-giving. Determined to remind people of the true message of Christ’s birth, St. Francis created the first known Nativity scene, which took place with live people and animals in a cave near Greccio, Italy. By the 1300s static Nativity sets appeared as display pieces in Italian churches and eventually in homes.

Nativity sets still bring the message home to the birth of Christ. “They say joy to the world in every sense,” O’Shields said.

The public is welcome to experience the crèche walk before and after church services at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Christmas Eve services at 4, 6 and 10:30 p.m. and Christmas Day service at 10 a.m. The church will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, when a student recital is being held in the sanctuary so quiet is required.

First Lutheran is at 301 W. Clark St. in Albert Lea.

Mower County

APS board approves sanctioning boys volleyball

Education

Austin Seniors receive Horatio Alger Scholarships

Crime, Courts & Emergencies

Man sentenced to over eight years for criminal sexual conduct with a child

Grand Meadow

2 injured in Saturday afternoon crash

Mower County

Courtney’s bench: Family and friends honor loved one lost in hope to raise awareness for mental illness

Mower County

Summerset Theatre opens Season 56 with the musical ‘Annie’

Adams

Adams Dairy Days celebrating 50th

Mower County

Gabby Weiss passes away, legacy will continue on the baseball diamond

Mower County

New sculpture is giving visitors another destination stop in Austin

Crime, Courts & Emergencies

Convictions: May 27-June 3

Mower County

In Your Community: Duplicate Bridge

Mower County

In Your Community: Mower County Senior Center

Education

Education Briefs

Education

Pacelli Honor Roll

News

US hiring and wage growth picked up last month in sign of sustained economic health

News

Many Americans are still shying away from EVs despite Biden’s push, an AP-NORC/EPIC poll finds

News

After 41 years, Pat Sajak makes his final spin as host of ‘Wheel of Fortune’

Mower County

Several file for local offices

Agriculture

Minnesota ID‘s first case of avian influenza in a dairy herd

News

D-Day anniversary haunted by dwindling number of veterans and shadowed by Europe’s new war

Mower County

Shawn Tweten steps up to challenge Finstad in primary

News

Well, hello!: ‘Hello, Dolly!’ opens CST’s seventh year

News

Appeals court halts Trump’s Georgia case during appeal of order allowing Willis to stay on case

Mower County

Institute scientist Hilakivi-Clarke receives grant to study possible benefits of organic, pasture-raised beef