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baltimoresun.com

Nativity scene at Baltimore Highlands church features realistic theme

By Keith Meisel, kmeisel@tribune.com

9:01 PM EST, December 9, 2012

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The crying of a little girl filled the silence in the pause between song and narration during Saturday evening's annual live Nativity presentation at Christ United Methodist Church in Baltimore Highlands.

Admonished to be quiet as she was carried away, she cried a little louder.

The sound added another note of realism to the reenactment of an infant's arrival outside a village called Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.

There was nothing cardboard or animated on a stage that was filled with children and small, but sizable, animals.

In the spotlight were donkeys, a goat, a miniature horse and a sheep alongside young residents costumed as shepherds.

There was even a miniature cow that was only 6 months old, according to its handler.

A crowd of approximately 100 sat in folding chairs or stood for the songs and story of the birth of Jesus Christ. The show lasted a little over a half hour.

"A lot of neighbors come out. In fact, most of the people weren't church people," said Margie Snyder, who organized the Dec. 8 event. "This is our gift to the neighborhood."

Brooke Howard, 10, was among the young humans who joined the animals on stage.

"He was trying to pull away," she said about the donkey's persistent tugs at the end of the rope she held.

"And, he kept trying to eat the hay," she said about the animal's eager acceptance of the edible bribery to keep it on stage.

Though this was her first year in the live Nativity scene, she was not fazed by dealing with the animals.

"I normally ride horses," she said.

Richard Keller, pastor of Christ United, was another first-timer who seemed comfortable in the setting.

"It's very exciting," said Keller, a Towson native who took over the church on Florida Avenue in July. "It's good to always remember what happened 2,000 years ago and that Jesus Christ is important today and not only in the past."

Snyder, who has organized the event for more than 20 years, said excitement is the usual reaction when the young actors meet the animals for the first time.

"The kids were here at three o'clock. They practiced and had dinner. Then the animals came. When they first see them, they get really excited," she said.

There have been few problems with the animals, she said, though there was a rooster one year that did not hesitate to speak his line often and usually not on cue.

"I don't think he knew his day from his night," Snyder said. "He didn't come back."

Jeffrey Boerner, a member of the church for 33 years, said he hopes to be invited back to reprise his role as one of the Wise Men in the reenactment.

"It's what I really enjoy doing," said Boerner, who said he had spent Saturday afternoon ringing a bell as part of his Christmas duty for the Salvation Army.

Sandy Howard, who lives nearby, was back for the second time Saturday night as part of the appreciative audience.

"It's awesome," said Howard, whose seven-year-old son, Jake, joined her daughter on stage.