COVENTRY TWP.: Shirley Chuchu has a vision for the life-size Nativity display at Cornerstone Free Methodist Church.
“I want to see it return to the back of the church, so that people driving down Killian Road will get the feeling that it looks like the town of Bethlehem. It just looks magical back there,” said Chuchu, 78. “I envision parents and grandparents pulling into the parking lot and explaining the Christmas story to their children and grandchildren, using the display as a visual connection.”
Chuchu’s hope is dependent on raising enough funds to build a proper platform for the huge white figurines that make up the display. The scene was moved from the east side of the parking lot to the front of the church several years ago because wind was knocking over the camels and kings.
Church leadership will explore whether Chuchu’s idea is feasible to return the nativity to its original spot on the church property at 578 Killian Road (between South Arlington Road and South Main Street). The move, which couldn’t happen until next year, is dependent on an evaluation of what it will take.
“The one thing I know for sure is we would need to make sure we could get electricity out to that spot,” said Bruce Oberlin, facility care director at the church. “I think we all agree that we should at least explore it; after all, [Chuchu] is the reason we even have the Nativity.”
Chuchu orchestrated the purchase of the Nativity 25 years ago from the former O’Neil’s department store in downtown Akron, where she was employed. When the store downsized from seven floors to three because of a shrinking customer base, the overhang above the windows in front of the building was eliminated. That meant there was no place to display the Nativity.
“Even though we were renting space at the time and in the early stages of building our new church, I thought it would be very special to have the Nativity,” Chuchu said. “There were several other potential buyers, including some pretty big churches. But somehow, we gathered the money ($1,000) to purchase it. I believe it was a gift from God to our small congregation.”
New tradition begins
The first lighting of the Nativity at the church was Thanksgiving 1987. The congregation now has a tradition of lighting the display each year, after its Thanksgiving Eve service. It remains lighted each night throughout the Christmas season.
Chuchu said when she looks at the Nativity — it includes white figurines of three wise men atop camels, four shepherds, an angel above the stable, Jesus, Joseph and Mary — she recalls the days when the streets in downtown Akron were packed with people who wanted to get a look at the animated figurines and decorations in the windows of O’Neil’s and a competitor store directly across the street, The A. Polsky Co.
“The windows would be draped with curtains for many weeks before Thanksgiving so that the workers could get them ready for the children of Akron to gaze upon and scream with delight,” Chuchu said. “Once the drapes were removed, there were teddy bears that moved, elves, wooden soldiers, Santa Claus, trains circling fireplaces, life-sized dolls with beautiful smiles and Christmas trees twinkling.”
Chuchu said sometimes she didn’t know who was more excited, the children or the fathers and grandfathers.
Oberlin, who is charged with setting up the Nativity each year, remembers being in those crowds as a child.
“It really does bring back some great memories. I just love putting it up. It’s one of my favorite things to do,” said Oberlin, 56. “Because I remember it as a kid, I think that makes it really special to have a chance to set it up here at the church.”
Over the years, the church has received feedback from people who have stopped to view the Nativity. Overwhelmingly, they express their appreciation for the church’s commitment to displaying the Nativity as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.
“Members of the church and the community have always been so generous in donating to help pay the electric bill to keep the lights on the Nativity and to take care of repairs,” Chuchu said. “I think it brings back great memories, and we hope that it will be the source of new memories for years to come.”
For information about Cornerstone, go to www.cornerstonefmc.org/ or call 330-644-3937.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org