By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Why put up a crèche when you can have something closer to the real thing? That’s the thinking of members of the New Utrecht Reformed Church in Bensonhurst, who prefer real live people to wood carved figures of Mary, Joseph and the shepherd boy in their Nativity scene.
The church will present a live Nativity on Saturday, Dec. 21, on the front lawn of the church on 18th Avenue between 83rd and 84th streets, from 3-5 p.m. There will be a straw-filled stable, a manger, and church volunteers dressed as Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, and the shepherd boy. They will be surrounded by sheep and goats. The manger won’t have a real baby, however. The newborn Jesus will be depicted by a doll.
Still, the church lawn display will bring visitors as close to what took place in Bethlehem 2013 years ago as is humanly possible.
Consider it the congregation’s gift to the community.
"We start getting phone calls asking about the date as early as April," Susan Hanyen, vice president of New Utrecht's Consistory said. "We began the popular tradition in 1956. It's actually kind of a 'Christmas card' we offer to our neighborhood and beyond," she said.
The New Utrecht Reformed Church started its annual tradition of giving the community the gift of a live Nativity scene 57 years ago.
The sheep and goats are rented from a New Jersey animal farm.
The New Utrecht Reformed Church, part of the Reformed Church of America denomination, was founded by Dutch settlers in 1677. The church was originally located on the corner 16th Avenue and 84th Street. According to the group Friends of Historic New Utrecht, the original church building was dismantled and the current church building, on 18th Avenue, was constructed in 1828 using stones from the original church.
The church property is steeped in history and not just the Biblical kind. During the Revolutionary War, British troops camped out on what is now the church’s lawn to prepare for the Battle of Brooklyn.
After the war, Americans erected a Liberty Pole at several locations in the former colonies, including the spot where the church now stands, to fly the US flag and celebrate defeating the British. A replica of the original Liberty Pole stands on the church’s front lawn.
The current pastor of the church is the Rev. Terry Troia of Staten Island.
For those planning on attending the live Nativity, parking is available in the church parking lot. The church is located the 18th Avenue station on the D subway line and the 84th Street stop on the B8 bus line.