A dozen or more animals and a growing cast of middle schoolers will take center stage for the debut of a live Nativity presentation Sunday outside in downtown Libertyville.
Cook Park will be the setting for the 20-minute performance depicting the story of the birth of Jesus. Presented by the United Methodist Church of Libertyville, "The Live Nativity" will feature a narrator telling the story while kids in all the roles act out the scenes. It is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
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No speaking lines?
"We tried that. We found fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders aren't that committed to the theatrical art," joked Pastor Steve Williams, who has been hosting similar programs throughout the suburbs for decades.
"I've done it in Naperville, Downers Grove, Lombard and Franklin Park ... we've done it everywhere and everybody loves it -- it's a lot of fun," said Williams, who has served in various locales in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church for the past 30 years. "It's just become a community tradition wherever I've been."
He and wife, Jamie, came to Libertyville in July 2011 as co-pastors. As there already were many activities on the calendar in recognition of the church's 175th anniversary celebration, Williams said he was still getting acclimated and didn't want to add the Nativity to the mix.
But 2012 is a fresh slate. Permission was secured from the village to stage the event, which has kids as the angels, shepherds, wise men and Mary and Joseph. It also features about six sheep, five goats, a cow, a donkey and maybe a potbellied pig.
"It's quite charming. It's a Norman Rockwell moment when you pull it off," Williams said. Afterward, the children and spectators will sing Christmas carols and all will be invited to the church about a block away at 429 Brainerd Ave., for cookies and hot chocolate.
"Hopefully next year, we'll have a camel," Williams said.
This will be the first time in recent memory a live Nativity has been staged in the park.
"I don't recall anything ever taking place in Cook Park like that," said Kevin Bowens, who has been village administrator for the past 21 years. There have been no public complaints, he said.
A traditional Nativity scene with a manger and large figurines has been a fixture in Cook Park for decades. A menorah also has been installed during the past few years, also without complaint.
The village's annual approval of the use of the park for the displays includes legal language saying Cook Park is a public place that allows all types of expressions.
The proposed installation of a Nativity scene in an Arlington Heights park by a private group has generated debate but is expected to be approved by the park district there.