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Taking in the Incarnation as a community

Southern California churches offer up Walking Nativity

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Four churches in Temple City, Calif., are offering the community a Walking Nativity Dec. 16.

LOUISVILLE — Residents in and around Temple City, Calif., can enjoy the Nativity story and a nice community walk together on Dec. 16.

Four churches within the boundaries of Presbytery of San Gabriel — the Mideast Evangelical Church, which is part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); First United Methodist Church; First Baptist Church; and Immanuel Church of the Nazarene — will stage the Temple City Walking Nativity, with stops at each church for a Nativity vignette before a final celebration at a nearby park.

MEC is the first stop, the angel’s announcement to Mary. The Methodists will tell the story of the Magi, with the Baptists dramatizing the shepherds’ encounter with the angels. The Nazarene church will host the manger scene. At the tour’s conclusion, participants will head to a nearby park to share food, beverage and their stories.

“We represent different congregations, but we are used to working with other churches,” said Remon Attalla, the Vision Beyond coordinator with Mideast Evangelical Church, a church of about 200 members that draws both English- and Arabic-speaking worshipers each Sunday afternoon from up to 40 miles away. “In our community we don’t have church pride and problems. We get along and support each other.”

“I think that’s where MEC thrives,” said the Rev. David Palmer, pastor of First United Methodist Church, whose idea sparked the free event. “They do a great job of publicity. The other churches have said, ‘It’ll mostly be just us and a few others.’ MEC made 3,000 fliers and is delivering them to 50 schools.”

“It’s a kernel of an idea that’s come to harvest,” he said. “The people there are young professionals and leaders in industry. It’s a real blessing to share with them.”

Palmer said the MEC pastor, the Rev. Maher Makar, “is quiet-spoken” and often is accompanied by an interpreter when they meet. “He’s not as comfortable in English as he is in Arabic, but the times we talk, he’s a brother in Christ. We both understand the need to reach the community together and share the good news of God.”

A case in point: When Egypt squared off against Saudi Arabia in a World Cup soccer match last June, there was considerable enthusiasm among MEC members and friends to enjoy the broadcast together. Palmer’s church had a large fellowship hall and the equipment to screen the event, which attracted such fans as members of the Egyptian diplomatic corps.

“They have a great team,” Palmer said of the church just a block north of his church, “and they’re focused on ministry.”

“We do have a heart for outreach,” Attalla said, noting that MEC members have made mission trips to Lebanon, Iraq and Tunisia. “We are a Middle Eastern church more than a local church, but we have a responsibility as a local church to change our community.”

Wendy Tajima, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of San Gabriel, said that MEC offers “the gospel in word through connecting with neighbors about the partner churches, in deed through an ecumenical ministry to homeless people and in arts and celebration through events like this Walking Nativity.”

The church, she said, is “a caring and welcoming presence to Arabic-speaking people leaving the violence of their homeland.”

Palmer said the Walking Nativity, which will include live music as well as the simple story surrounding Jesus’ birth, will be especially powerful because it joins four churches that are used to working with one another.

“It made sense to connect with the neighbors to put on a bigger event,” he said. “We wanted to open it to the community to see the real story of Christmas — the Incarnation and what it means for God to be with us.”

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