Grassroots support gives life to Nativity

GEORGETOWN — During the holiday season, there are The Twelve Days of Christmas.
This year, the heart of Sussex County has 14 nights of Christmas.

Thursday marked the second evening of the live nativity on The Circle, an event born from community response to an idea pitched by the Good Ole Boy Foundation that in one week transformed a negative situation into something constructive and positive.

“We are sincerely humbled by the response,” said Good Ole Boy Foundation member K.C. Conaway, one of the live nativity’s primary facilitators.
The view for traffic westbound on East Market Street steering toward The Circle features the lighted stable with the manger scene, an angel perched on a raised scissor scaffold above and the shining Christmas Star towering above all.

Thursday night, The Circle bustled with activity. People enjoyed free hot chocolate and cookies while witnessing the live nativity presentation, about two hours in length. It features the manger scene with church members in costume and religious Christmas music and carols.

“I think it’s wonderful. I do. I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” said Milford resident John O’Neil, who attended with his wife Dee. “And the people coming to see it all the time, I think it’s great. It’s positive, and it’s bringing people together out here.”

Ms. O’Neil echoed those thoughts. “It’s wonderful and it gives people a chance to see it and get the idea of what it’s all about. I love it,” she said.
The idea for the live nativity surfaced after media in early December reported the town of Georgetown’s recent code revision, which prohibits all unattended structures, displays and signs on The Circle. The revision, according to Georgetown Town Manager Eugene Dvornick, was approved by town council primarily for protection and public safety.

For several years, Georgetown Wesleyan Church had placed an unattended nativity scene on The Circle during the Christmas season.
Town council’s decision sparked backlash. Georgetown leaders were targets of waves of criticism in social media.

“We have some good people leading us,” Mr. Conaway said in reference to Georgetown officials. “Unfortunately, we are not in their shoes. We don’t know why they have to make a decision. I know you’re in a tough situation, but we are here to make a difficult situation better.”

“But look,” Mr. Conaway added, “we should never have to depend on the government to share Jesus. That is our responsibility. That is what we are called to do.”

Permission for an attended display — a live nativity — was obtained from the town of Georgetown. Word funneled quickly through the Good Ole Boy Foundation and its vast community network and a plan of action was set in motion.

“We have taken a negative problem and turned it into a positive event for everyone,” said Georgetown Mayor Bill West. “I want nothing but good things for this community.”
State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn of Georgetown said, “What they did is they looked at the rules and the rules say, ‘No unattended displays.’ So, what could they do to get around that? Make sure the displays are attended.”

The Dukes Lumber family, a Good Ole Boy Foundation ally in projects, jumped on board along with others.
“K.C. called me and said, ‘We’ve got to do something. We can’t sit here and allow people to remove our tradition, our heritage and what we believe in,’” said Rusty Dukes. “And I said, ‘Let’s roll!”

“We met last week. What you see here was done in two five-hour work nights,” said Mr. Dukes. “We came up with a plan and figured out what we wanted. We’ve got wheels under it so we can move it off The Circle. We wired it. It was an incredible effort. The Good Ole Boys and all us got together and it was a team effort in building this thing and brainstorming.”

Live nativity presentations are scheduled through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, from 6 to 8 p.m., weather permitting.

In just a few days, the 20-foot by 8-foot mobile stable was constructed. In keeping with town code, the mobile stable is removed after each presentation and wheeled a block down South Bedford Street for outside storage at the Georgetown Fire Company.

“This whole idea was birthed, designed and implemented in six says,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “When we had talked to people before, they said, ‘Well, something like this will take months to plan, months to get everybody together, months to get all of the logistics.’ This just shows you that where there’s a will there is a way. And it was the will of so many people within our community to have a nativity on The Circle.”

“They found a way to do it. They found the volunteers to play the parts, the volunteers to build. They found the funds to rent the lift and to purchase the materials, and everything that is needed to make this happen,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “And that just shows you the strength of our community, when we can come together, when we can see an issue and we can take positive steps to make that issue right in a way that is respectful, in a way that really brings the community together. We have churches from all over the county that are coming in and participating in this. It is just absolutely amazing.”

Mr. Dukes said, “Under the Good Ole Boys, you’ve got guys that are incredible at marketing like Josh (Wharton) and K.C (Conaway). Then you’ve got guys like Dave Wilson and Warren Reid, myself, my son Kolby Dukes and so many others that are in construction that can make this happen with the help of Josh and K.C. and those guys. We make an incredible team when we put our efforts together for something like this as a group.”

Members of Discover Church of Georgetown portrayed people and manger scene animals for the second night of the live nativity. First Baptist Church of Georgetown had opening night honors.

“What brought us here is we love the opportunity to support the Good Ole Boy Foundation,” said Discover Church Pastor Curtis Jones. “And not only that, we are bringing the community together. We love the fact that we have over 13 churches that have come together to be able to pull this off. We’re just excited as Discover Church – we just moved into our location – to be able to come and join the faith community here in Georgetown.”

Church members were eager to participate in the two-plus hour event. It was quite chilly the first two evenings with temperatures in the low to mid 30s.

“We were able to get a group together,” said Pastor Jones. “We even had some people reach out to us after we were starting to fill slots that were saying, ‘Hey, we want to be part of it. We want to bring the kids in.’ We actually had kids that were so excited because they were going to be the animals and wanted to wear their clothes for tonight all day to school today!”

Ms. O’Neil said, “In the past I’ve seen (live nativities) in California, and they have real animals, but I think these ‘animals’ are adorable.”
In keeping with the season of giving, organizers have linked the nativity event to support for the Sussex County Pregnancy Care Center and the Sussex County Foster Parent Association.

Donations, such as diapers (sizes 4 through 6) and baby wipes are welcome, as well toys for little children, Mr. Conaway said.

Nativity attendees are treated to free hot chocolate and cookies nightly.
“I was willing to pay, and she just said, ‘Merry Christmas and a smile, that is all we want,’” said Mr. O’Neil.
“The main thing here is it’s about love,” said Mr. Dukes. “This is not a protest. There are no ill feelings toward the town, towards the mayor, or anyone.

It’s about doing what’s right. and giving back. We have the two charities – the Sussex Pregnancy Center and the Foster Care of Sussex County – so we’re kind of tying that all together, asking for individuals to give back. So, bring a gift.”

In addition, organizers are offering a free prize for children.
Youngsters 15 and under get one chance simply by registering at each event. The opening night prize was a PlayStation 4. Children who make donations to the pregnancy center and/or the foster parent association receive five additional chances in the random prize drawing.

Organizers are amazed by the rapid-fire success and response.
“Who would have thought that this was just a twinkling in our eyes at this time last week?” said Mr. Conaway on opening night Dec. 11. “We are just so thankful that God has had his hand on this from the very beginning. It is just an incredible thing of what can happen.”

“The power of ‘We’ is much greater than the power of ‘Me,’” Mr. Conaway said. “We’re here to celebrate the power of ‘We.’ I am just here to tell you … this is a great town. This is my hometown. This is many of you guys’ hometown. And we’re not here to protest. The way I look at it, we love our town officials here. The mayor was out here. He saw this. He was crying tonight by just seeing it.”

Mr. Dukes said, “It has brought the community together. It’s exciting to see everyone come together, and that’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about.”
Pastor Jones said this brings to light the true reason for the Christmas season.

“We get to kind of break down some of that commercialism, and the other stuff that is going on. We get to come out here just as people that live local in the community, loving on each other a little bit and sing some Christmas carols — and just have the opportunity to celebrate the birth of the Savior.”

Live nativity presentations are scheduled through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, from 6 to 8 p.m., weather permitting.

Mr. Conaway on opening night recognized all the volunteers, and members of the public that “have been willing to come out and sit in the cold with us.”

“Tell your family. Tell your friends,” said Mr. Conaway. “Just come out here, share a cup of hot chocolate with us and let’s really celebrate the real reason of the season. And that is Jesus Christ.”

For updates, information and ways to volunteer and participate, visit the newly created website – www.nativityonthecircle.com – and the Good Ole Boy Foundation Facebook page.

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