Jonesville church shares Christmas story through 118 nativities

Jonesville church shares Christmas story through 118 nativities

First United Methodist Church hosts a Christmas nativity display for their community. From left to right are Barbara Rosenbaum, Nita Witt, Jackie Terry, Karen Cridlin, Rev. Richard Davis, and Linda Woodward.

JONESVILLE, Va. -- A pickup truck pulled into the parking lot just as Jackie Terry was headed to her car on a recent Wednesday night at First United Methodist Church in Jonesville.

“Is it too late to see the nativities?” the driver of the truck asked. The family peered out the window at Terry, waiting for her response.

It was a few minutes after 7 p.m., the time when the Christmas Nativity Display at First United Methodist Church shut down for the evening. The church doors were locked, so Terry answered, “Yes, we’re closed.”

From inside the truck, a little girl made Terry change her mind. “But I want to see Baby Jesus!” the girl shouted. Terry promptly unlocked the church doors and invited the family in.
Nativities range from traditional to unusual.

For the second consecutive Advent season, First United Methodist Church of Jonesville is hosting a Christmas display that started with about 60 nativities in 2021 and doubled to 118 this year. The United Women in Faith's Circle of Joy organized and set up the elaborate exhibit in time for the “hanging of the greens” at the church on the first Sunday of Advent.

As of Dec. 21, about 85 persons had visited the display of miniature manger scenes, including a Head Start staff group that was meeting in the church for a training session that day. The nativities are on loan from church members and friends and are accompanied with cards explaining their origins.
 Painted porcelain from Moldova
was a missionary's gift to Nita Witt.

“We wanted to give our community the true story of Christmas,” said Nita Witt, one of the United Women in Faith who helped create the display. 

The nativities range from traditional to unusual, from wood to glass to ceramic to stone to metal. Each depicts newborn Jesus in a manger with Mary and Joseph nearby. Many include an assortment of barn animals, shepherds, angels, the wise men and their camels.
Hand-stitched Holy Family looks like little pillows.

One nativity in the Jonesville sanctuary is illustrated on a platter, while another is carved into a cutting board. One scene has the Holy Family stitched on what looks like little pillows. Another is a wall hanging with colorful beading, a handmade gift from Terry’s daughter’s mother-in-law. One set is nestled in a birdcage, while another is cupped in the wings of an adoring angel.

Barbara Rosenbaum shows off a nativity whose figurines have spots of unexpected color on their faces.
Nativity bought for grandchild:
 "Used, abused, and loved."

“I bought this nativity for my grandson when he was 2. It’s been used and abused and loved,” Rosenbaum said. The color spots, she explains, are crayon. Her grandson is now 20.

The Circle of Joy decided to create the Christmas nativity exhibit last year after Pat Fortner saw another church’s display on a trip. The Circle of Joy took over the back section of the sanctuary and created showcases for the manger scenes by turning pews upside down and draping them with fabric.
A box opens into a manger scene.

“We have over 100 candles set up in here, and it has a beautiful effect in the evening,” said Witt, referring to the glowing battery-operated lights. The church’s numerous stained-glass windows add to the beauty, especially when the streetlights are shining through the windows, Terry said.

The Rev. Richard Davis shows off his favorite nativity in the exhibit, a puzzle-like Bethlehem scene carved in walnut, cherry and cedar.

“What’s so appealing to me is the work is so beautiful and intricate,” Davis said. “It reminds me of how we are wonderfully and intricately made by God.”
Nita Witt shows off a gift from Germany.

Linda Woodward shows off an engraving print of the Holy Family, copied from an 1881 family Bible. Witt is proud of a tiny carving from Frankfort, Germany, and a painted porcelain nativity from Moldova, both gifts to her from a missionary friend.

“It’s a sacrifice for people to give up their nativity scenes for the season,” Karen Cridlin notes.
A fabric-and-wood scene recalls
Sunday school projects past.

One Christmas story depiction is a fabric-on-wood creation from a Sunday school project of about 20 years past. Several families in the church have the same nativity, church members said, especially since the craft project was later repeated for a Vacation Bible School session.
A family treasure from France is finally finished.

One of the larger nativities, with the most figures and generously sprinkled with straw, belongs to Terry. Her father bought and began hand painting the little statues in 1963, when he was in the Air Force and stationed in France. He painted a few figures every three or four years. After Jack Osborne died in a car accident in 1982, his daughter took the nativity home, promising to finally finish her father’s Christmas project.

When First United Methodist Church began planning its first nativity display last year, Terry unpacked her family’s treasure from France to find that two characters in the Christmas story still needed a coat of paint to bring them alive.

She took out her brushes and finished what her father started, 58 years later. Her favorite figure is one of the wise men’s camels, draped in a bright purple robe and carrying heavy sacks, presumably with gifts for the newborn king.

Sign up for a free weekly email subscription to The CallHolston Conference includes 842 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. Holston Conference's main offices are located in Alcoa, Tennessee.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.