The Wisbech Walking Nativity: Proclaiming the Gospel to the Town

GuesT post by  Father Paul WEST


On Sunday 13 December, following our Sung Mass at St Peter’s Church Wisbech (authentic Christian mission always flows from our encounter of Christ in the Eucharist) our wonderfully multi-cultural Opus Gratiae Youth Group members (Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Portuguese, Lithuanian, and English children) scrambled, once again, into Angie’s magnificent Nativity costumes.

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The giant processional puppet of St Nicholas was rescued from the choir vestry and emerged resplendent and ready for action: many of our youth group members are Eastern Orthodox Christians and St Nicholas is an especially treasured saint to them.

Carla, a Portuguese mum and parishioner, arrived with her baby son Rodrigo in his pram: an instant Christ-Child ready to go. Russian child-actors playing Our Lady and St Joseph took him into the crowed streets of Wisbech: The Holy Family of Fenland walking, singing, and praying for the families of our region.

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We formed up into a line led by the Holy Family supported by angels, wise men, and shepherds. James our Head Server led us forward with the 17th Century Civic Processional Cross of Wisbech.

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Clutching our carol sheets we began to sing, as a light nuisance rain began to fall. Through St Peter’s Park we went: our wonderful reader Keith inserted into the lower intestine cavity of the monumental paper mache Eastern saint, and, peering out of a mesh window to drive the structure, it must have been a real penitential exercise for him.

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Arriving in the market place we met the Mayor and Mayoress of Wisbech and Glenn, from the BBC, who was dressed as a big wobbly snowman. He led us forward with great gusto: singing the carols from memory, and dramatically introducing us to the bewildered Fenland crowd: “The Walking Nativity from St Peter’s Church” he repeatedly cried. There was great banter between the snowman and the parish priest, during the procession, that wove it’s way through the crowded streets of the town.

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Such great fun and over a thousand people saw this joyous witness to Jesus Christ. People welcomed the procession with smiles and sometimes applause – proving that secularism has not really snuffed out the light of faith in the public square of contemporary England.

And this was a powerful catholic witness (catholic mission is always deeply evangelical because it springs from that theologically rich and deep well of an incarnational religion) where the catholic imagination (reliance on images and a faith raucously lived out rather than just words) captured the attention of onlookers – hundreds of people, inhabiting a very visual culture, held up their i-phones to take photos and made images of the Walking Nativity: perhaps triggering memories of school nativity plays?

Our Mayor was full of praise about how wonderful the Walking Nativity was, and encouraged us to make this an annual tradition. Well… we like tradition at St Peter’s!

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Eleven years old Shanice, from Ramnoth Junior school, was our event-photographer and she did an amazing job of capturing the procession and its impact on the town-folk: