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Connellsville church displaying Nativity scenes this weekend

| Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

"Oh Come Let Us Adore Him" — more than 100 creches, Nativities and angels — will be on display this weekend at the Connellsville Presbyterian Church, in conjunction with It's A Connellsville Christmas.

From 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, visitors can see the different styles. Some displays date back almost 100 years. This is the third year church members have set up this unique display.

First suggested by church member Teri Montgomery, fellow planning committee members were pleased to see the great response they got when they asked the congregation and others in the community to bring in their personal Nativities for the display and to provide a history for each piece. The number has grown over the past three years.

The largest depiction of the Nativity in the church is the stained-glass window above the balcony. It is more than 90 years old and the stained glass that makes up the panels came from Germany around the beginning of World War I.

A photo, taken by Bill Sechler, showcases the window illuminated at night. A large banner on the sanctuary wall was handmade by the late Kim Towsey Giobbi. She also made a black felt silhouette that is hung every Christmas season in the choir loft. Many of the Nativities are from the private collection of Theresa Teets, including one of the most popular — an animated oval that plays "The First Noel" as each shepherd stops at the manger.

"I purchased it at Hills around the time I got married and started my collection," said Teets. She also provided the smallest Nativity, a little birdhouse with Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus on a Hallmark ornament.

Church member Janet Driscoll has included some of her favorites in the displays for the past three years including a three-piece hand-painted ceramic that she made for her parents more than 25 years ago and white ceramic angels that were made for her by a friend.

Church members Tom and Shirley Rusnack have contributed pieces for the display each year including Hallmark ornaments and snow globes that are special family keepsakes.

Church members John and Sue Husband are proud to display some of their heirlooms such as a tree top angel given to them for their first Christmas after they were married (more than 40 years ago) by Sue's mother, Jane O'Casek.

There is also a Green Angel presented to Husband by the Girl Scouts in gratitude for her 25 years as a leader. Church member Estella Gross' treasures include three white angels made by her sister-in-law as well as four pink and blue angels made more than 40 years ago by a favorite neighbor, Emma Jean Swartzwelder.

Church member Eleanor Hixenbaugh shows a Nativity made in Africa and also one from Israel and church member Polly Dye purchased a needlepoint Nativity just for the yearly display.

Church member Cathy McNair, who doesn't like popcorn, was recently given a tin of popcorn by her son, Coalby. She didn't show a lot of enthusiasm for the gift until he said, "Look mom, it has a Nativity scene on it, you can take it to our church display." The McNair family has also provided a wooden creche, a snow globe, and Jesus, Mary and Joseph on a donkey sculpture.

Church members John and Pat Arzbacher bring in a fragile tree top angel that is more than 50 years old, plus others. A sentimental favorite of church member Nancy Luckey is the "Tall Book Of Christmas" given to her husband Rick in 1956 by the Donald Higbee family. One of the stories in the book is "The Christmas Story" according to Luke and Matthew, and the family still reads it each holiday.

There are many new additions to the display this year including the center attraction, 26 wooden plaques made by the Faith Finders, the children's group of the church.

"They were so excited that day, they wanted to take them home to show their mothers, but we asked them to leave them here for the program," Luckey said. Montgomery's husband cut out and donated all the wooden squares for the plaques and church members saved greeting cards with Nativity scenes for the children to use.

There are so many designs and materials that are included. There are displays made of glass, porcelain, resin, wood, bamboo, bisque, cloth, crystal, terra cotta, metal and others. There as also mugs, wall hangings, sun catchers, music boxes, puzzles, cookie jars, Lenox ornaments, a bronze lapel pin and many scenes that include the Three Wise Men, the drummer boy, and the animals in a stable.

This is the first Christmas season the Rev. Suzanne Zampella and her husband, Neil, will spend in Connellsville at the Presbyterian Church. She is amazed at the beauty of the creches which have been collected for display.

"It reminds everybody what Advent and the season are all about before they get dragged down by the hustle and bustle," she said.

Luckey adds, "Many visitors to our display have commented to me that this event really begins their Christmas, they can feel the spirit. We invite everyone in the community to experience the spiritual side of the season, seeing these many beautiful pieces, those that they've seen here before and the many new ones we've added this year, is very uplifting. We are proud and blessed to be able to tell the story of Jesus' birth in this way."

A printed program is provided. It indicates the number, owner and history of each creche, Nativity and angel. Holiday music and joyful hymns of the season will be performed throughout the two days on the baby grand piano by Brad Henry. Cookies, punch and coffee will be served in the dining room. A free will offering will benefit the Connellsville Community Ministries, as the church has designated the two-day event as a mission outreach project. The planning committee is headed by Teri Montgomery and includes Shirley Rusnack, Nancy Luckey and Eleanor Hixenbaugh.

For more information call the church office at 724-628-4401 or visit the website at www.connellsvillepresbyterian.org .

From 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday only a live Nativity will be presented on the lawn outside of the church. It is being held by the Connellsville Area Ministerial Association and will include authentic dress and real animals. Everyone is encouraged to come by and experience this unique event. The church is located on the corner of South Pittsburgh and Green streets.

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