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Archive for Saturday, December 25, 1999

LIVING NATIVITY BRINGS ANIMALS, CHILDREN TO CHURCH SERVICE

December 25, 1999

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The First Presbyterian Church sanctuary resembled a barnyard Christmas Eve.

Ryan Bellinger struggled to stay in character as showtime approached at the First Presbyterian Church's living nativity on Christmas Eve.

"Oink, oink, oink!" the 4-year-old said, shaking his head so his sheep ears wiggled. Dressed in a woolly shirt, he joined the real sheep at the church, 2415 Clinton Parkway.

"I have a problem making sheep sounds because I have a cold," he explained.

Congregation members arriving at the church were greeted by Cody, Jim and Betty Grems' miniature donkey. While Cody attempted to nibble on a pew cushion, the Grems, Eudora, explained how to convince a donkey to behave in church: apple slices.

"He's very happy with apples," Betty Grems said.

Cody joined four chickens -- two of them molting feathers -- and a sheep at the church's altar, piles of straw at his feet. The chickens strutted in wire cages.

"We had to say 'no' to the house cat," said interim Associate Pastor Nancy Thellman. "We had one chaotic rehearsal (Thursday). Nobody has a speaking part, which makes it all possible."

Thellman said about 40 children, from preschool to junior-high age, participated in the fourth annual children's service and living nativity at First Presbyterian.

Two of the shepherds needed no practice because they raise sheep. State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, and Natalya Lowther sat in the church's office, waiting for their cue. Dressed in bright, bulky garments, they clutched their wooden staffs.

Lowther, who raises sheep on an 11-acre farm north of Lawrence, brought a lamb for the nativity scene. Sloan didn't bring sheep because his were too large to be carried, a necessity in case they decided not to cooperate.

Lowther's sheep, which made its showbiz debut at the Lecompton Territorial Capital Festival over the summer, has a weakness.

"It's amazing what a handful of cracked corn will do to get the attention of a sheep," she said.

The assorted cast featured angels, "wise guys" and other characters, but the star of the show -- literally -- shone above the others.

"Scotty has been waiting to be the star for a couple of years," said 9-year-old Scotty Thellman's father, Scott Thellman.

The bright yellow star, outlined in Christmas lights, was powered by a battery pack in Scotty's jacket pocket and affixed to his head with a headband. Standing on a ladder with his back to the congregation, Scotty showed the way to baby Jesus.

Jim Dunkin gave his first sermon, "Christ is Really Here!" later Friday night as the new First Presbyterian Church head of staff.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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