Real Life Church puts on nativity scene at Niles-Buchanan YMCA

NILES — Plenty of people followed a glowing electric star Sunday night to the parking lot of Niles-Buchanan YMCA, where members of the Real Life Church put on a real-life nativity set.

The five-year tradition included the chance to interact with multiple animals, including two camels, goats and donkeys. Those who attended could also visit the manger, where Mary and Joseph were played by Rachael Inman, 14 and Cole Krueger, 15. The baby Jesus was replicated using a plastic doll.

Nearby, wise men were played by Miley Young, of Niles Township and Tom Hoyt, of Buchanan. The manger scene was made complete by a glowing electronic star, seeking to draw those to the scene. Hot chocolate was served to help keep people warm during the winter evening and several fire pits also served as warming stations around the parking lot. The event was free and open to the public.

Pastor Jared Eckerley, who organized the event, said he likes seeing the tradition bring families together to have some Christmas fun.

“There really was not anything like this around here,” Eckerley said. “Our goal was just to get the community to stop during a busy time of the year and remember what it is all about.”

Due to exceedingly cold temperatures last year, which dipped into the negatives, Eckerley said the event was canceled. He said he was happy to see fairer weather this year, which ranged in the 20- to 30-degree range. Eckerley said he anticipated that between 200 to 300 people visited the live nativity set throughout the evening, while more than a dozen members from Real Life Church served as the actors, welcoming residents to “Bethlehem.”

For Andrew Alstott, of Niles, bringing his family to the nativity has been a tradition. On Sunday, he watched his son, Amare Alstott, 3, feed hay to one of the donkeys.

“He’s loving it,” Andrew said. “The best part is definitely the animals.”

Eckerley said once the church breaks down the festivities this year, they will begin planning next year’s nativity.

“Each year, we try to add something new,” Eckerley said. “It’s a good event to bring the community together.”

This year, they added a cross and some additional fire pits. Next year, Eckerley said they hope to add a marketplace to the scenery.

For those who missed the event this year, Eckerley encouraged them to visit the event next year and see what it is about.

“It just is a good time to bring the family out and bring the community together,” Eckerley said. “It is not every day you get to see a camel in Niles.”

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