BELLINGHAM - For the first time in four years, there will be no shepherds, angels or wise men this weekend re-enacting the birth of Jesus in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church on South Main Street.
Every year, during the weekend before Christmas, the small church performs a living Nativity outside on their church grounds, but the threat of rain on Sunday has forced the church to cancel this year’s event.
One of the few live Nativities in the area, Rev. Baron K. Rodrigues, pastor of the First Baptist Church, says he’s already had to break the news to members of the community who look forward to the event every year.
“People have been asking me, ‘are you going to do it this year?” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s an 80 percent chance of rain Sunday and there’s juts no way we can do it.”
The living Nativity was supposed to be held on Dec. 15, but the snowstorm that struck the area that week forced the church to postpone the event until Sunday. Now, the weather is calling for cloudy conditions and rain.
The church’s living Nativity is a major production that incorporates elaborate costumes, live animals, more than a dozen cast members and a choir made up of church members. There is no charge for admission, and people are invited simply to come and remember the birth of Christ, Rodrigues says.
“We’ve been doing this for four years and this is the first time we’ve had to cancel,” he said. “There is still some residual snow from the last storm in the parking lot and with all the rain that is being forecast for Sunday it just didn’t make sense to do it this year.”
In the meantime, the church is going forward with its annual Christmas Cantata to be held tonight at 7 o’clock inside the church, located at 1172 South Main St. Entitled “Three Trees,” the musical play is free to the public and will include light refreshments following the performance.
The First Baptist Church decided to hold an annual living Nativity four years ago to address the growing backlash against nativity scenes in public spaces, Rodrigues said.
“When I was a kid growing up in the projects in New Bedford every town in Massachusetts had a manager near city hall,” he says. “Today, our religious traditions and heritage are slowly being dismantled and overpowered by political correctness.”
“When I approached my congregation about doing a live Nativity, they embraced it. That was four years ago and we’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.
Last year, hundreds of people visited the living nativity, said Rodrigues, adding some visitors have made it a Christmas tradition and come every year. The church is located smack dab in the center of town at the intersection of Route 140 and Route 126 so it’s hard not to miss the lighted crèche and star of Bethlehem shining high above the manager.
“The whole town drives right by us so that was our point with this,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for us to interact with people and show people the true meaning of Christmas.”
Rodrigues has been pastor of the First Baptist Church for the past six years. When he first arrived, the congregation totaled 10 people. Today, the congregation is made up of 85 to 90 people.
Many members of Rodrigues’ congregation were among the estimated 1,500 people who turned out in Woonsocket for a rally last May to defend a war memorial on city property topped with a cross whose constitutionality was being challenged by an atheist group.
“Our church was there and we stood firm,” says the pastor. “I believe our Christian faith is being attacked and as Christians there are times when you have to take a stand.”
As for the Christmas season, Rodrigues says he’s disappointed in what he says is the erosion of religion’s role from American celebrations of Christmas.
“That’s why we do our living Nativity,” he says. “It’s our way of doing something for the community to remember the meaning of Christmas.”
(Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7)