A Joliet church is embracing the spirit of Christmas with a live Nativity service on Christmas Eve. Saint Edward and Christ Episcopal Church will hold its annual service in the great barn of the Christ Campus, located on Grove Road on the western border of Joliet.
Saint Edward has been a presence in the city since the 1950s, and the decision was made to expand with the Christ Campus in Kendall County 10 years ago. The 12-acre farm, the first Episcopal Church in the county, provides the growing community with a retreat house, worship area and a wedding venue.
“We kind of wanted to branch out there and become that for Kendall County,” Pastor Richard Lundgren said. “We have parishioners from Plano, Millbrook, Plainfield; so that’s what we’re trying to capture.”
As Lundgren put it, the Episcopalian faith is known for its inclusivity, featuring female pastors, and its welcoming nature toward those who might feel alienated from other faiths, possibly including divorcees and members of the LGBTQ community.
“There’s a whole variety of reasons that people get rejected from their own church that they maybe grew up in, and we feel like we’re a place of healing, and a place where everyone truly is welcome, and everyone is truly welcome to receive the Eucharist at the table,” he said. “There’s no division, there’s no fences, no bars to who can attend and who can receive.”
The church’s traditional live Nativity began about nine years ago, not long after the Christ Campus was purchased.
“The first few years, it was very cold in there,” Lundgren said, but thanks to years of improvement, he called this year the warmest in the great barn, giving parishioners the chance to warm up and take off their coats. More than 100 people usually attend the service each year, he said.
“Somebody threw out the idea, and I think at first we were like, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to work,’ and we were also trying to figure out how do we do that and also make it a communion service, because folks coming for Christmas want to have that experience of Christmas Mass. And we just do it, and amazingly we do it in just about an hour,” Lundgren said.
The first part of the service is dedicated to singing hymns and telling the story of the Nativity, performed by members of the church and live animals donated for the evening by a parishioner. Animals have included a donkey, goats, hens, wild turkey, geese, sheep and others that help to create the environment.
“At the end of it, you actually have this nice tableau of the Nativity in front of the altar,” Lundgren said. “There’s a couple that has a farm that has been doing this for us every year, and they just love doing it. It’s really quite wonderful that there’s somebody willing to do it on Christmas Eve, and take away from their own family time and be with us.”
Parishioners' reaction to the Christmas Eve celebration has been overwhelmingly positive, Lundgren said.
“It really touches people. I’ve been surprised at how touched people get by it, and some of our current parishioners, that was their first exposure to Christ Campus,” he said. “People will say that it’s the most powerful experience they’ve had of Christmas, and for some, we only see them every year at that event, but they’re very faithful, and we know we can count on them.
“Spiritually, it has surprised me even, at the level in which it touches people.”
When asked why those new to the church should attend, Lundgren called the event “unique.”
“I think it will touch them and help them understand the mystery of Christmas in a new way,” Lundgren said.
The Live Nativity will be held at 4 p.m. Monday at the Christ Campus, located at 2800 Grove Road in Joliet.