There have been many great stories about our live crèche at Old First. Our former pastor Geneva Butz managed to fill two books with those stories and I’m sure that Michael could fill another. But considering how the crèche was constructed 27 years ago, when I first volunteered to help, one story of a miracle has been largely left untold.
The crèche at that time was almost entirely constructed of the heavy wood beams from the late Victorian warehouses that surrounded the church building. The beams were recovered when those buildings were demolished as part of the church restoration. The twelve foot long side sections were constructed of the three inch thick virgin growth beams. During the year, theses sides were stored behind the church, where the wood could absorb lots of heavy moisture. Each of the sides weighed roughly as much as a Hyundai. These sides needed to be wheeled out from behind the church on a cart no bigger than a skateboard. The path from behind the church was then mud narrowed with cobble stones piled on the side. Just to make things interesting, numerous rusty nails protruded from these wooden monsters. We needed at least five people to move the sides. I remember one cold winter Saturday having the requisite five of us to take down the crèche and move those pieces. The catch was that the crew was me, John Rex and three men over 80 years old. Somehow we got it done. Yes, it was a miracle that no one was ever seriously injured or crushed while moving and erecting the crèche back then.
Those unwieldy sections are long gone. We’ve since built far lighter modular side sections and a box beam for the main proscenium; however, the old warehouse beams live on as our roof beams as a physical reminder of where we’ve been. Now all the pieces are stored inside, so as to not absorb that heavy moisture and nails have been superseded by bolts and screws.
For many years the construction was performed by members of our congregation. Any help is welcomed as a large part of the work is carrying parts up from the basement. One of the things I’ve learned however is that some of the smartest and best educated among us aren’t sure of which end of the hammer to use. Over the past few years, when I wasn’t quite as successful in rounding up volunteers from the congregation, we asked men from the shelter or the Saturday morning cupboard for help. Though given a small monetary compensation, these men exhibit an incredible work ethic, know how to use the tools, and seem to know how the jigsaw pieces of the crèche fit together… despite never having seen the finished product. A few, now in better places in their lives, come back to help year after year to help.
Like sports, this type of work can be a great equalizer, where the talents of a man, who has had a tough time in life, is equal to those of us that have had all the privileges. Working together as equals helps us to realize that all of us are a whisker away from the potential for hard times and that these men, who may have been abandoned by society, are not lacking in work ethic or talents. Oh, and we’ve always had a great time.
We can still use all the help we can get from the congregation. Wear work clothes and bring your work gloves, cordless drills and wrenches if you have them. We start at about 8:30 am on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 11.26. If all goes well, we’ll be done by 1:00 pm.