MARLBORO – The donkey entered the sanctuary of the church with Mary and Joseph. He stopped after a few steps, then started to back up, then completely stopped moving.
This was not the plan for the inaugural living nativity scene at the Monmouth Worship Center in Marlboro. Mara Costa, a devotee who volunteered to host the event, learned the hard way how delicate these things can be.
“The donkey tightened its legs and didn’t move,” she said. “Then he started to poop. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m fired.’ But the children continued to sing. The show continued.
The donkey never moved.
“Eventually four huge men had to move it,” Costa said.
That was in 2019. In 2020, due to the pandemic, the Monmouth Worship Center moved the living nursery outside and converted it into a drive-thru business. Costa would find that donkeys were much more willing to be outside – and that people liked the concept as well. More than 500 cars carrying more than 1,000 people crossed for two nights.
“The positive feedback was just amazing,” said Costa.
The open-air living nativity scene is therefore back for 2021. Entitled “Jesus, the light of the world”, it takes place this Saturday and Sunday from 5:30 pm to 8 pm in the parking lot of the Monmouth Worship Center at 37 Vanderburg Road. The rainy dates are December 11-12. The event is free; non-perishable food donations are collected for the church’s community pantry.
The crèche takes around 15 minutes by car and includes guided audio. There are eight scenes depicting the story of Jesus’ birth. About 50 members of the congregation, aged 4 to 70, participate as actors. Last year there was a real baby – well, closer to a one-year-old – in the nursery. This year there is a life-size doll.
“At the moment there is no baby available,” said Costa. “Last year we had a daughter, and she was so good. Her mother cut her hair just to be in the nursery.
There will be live animals, provided for the second year in a row by Honky Tonk Ranch, a Jackson farm. The straw-covered pens will include two alpacas, two zebus (humpback cattle), five sheep, four goats, a few chickens and yes, a donkey. No, it’s not the same donkey that pooped in the sanctuary.
“The donkey will be fine as long as he’s outside,” said Costa.
Costa considered getting a camel for the weekend. At $ 2,000, it was prohibitively expensive for an operation with a total budget of $ 5,000. Instead, a few of the event’s 130 volunteers built a 7ft tall replica camel and baby camel to boot. The set has been designed by internal volunteers to a level of theatrical quality.
Preparations started in September. Costa predicts that more than 800 cars will arrive this weekend. She can’t wait to see the reactions.
“The highlight is the message we are trying to get across,” she said. “We are looking for ways to connect the community, especially in today’s world where a lot of people feel isolated and alone.”
Jerry Carino is a community columnist for Asbury Park Press, focusing on the interesting people of the Jersey Shore, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]