Live Nativity at DL's First Lutheran included goats, sheep — and even a camel

Live Nativity services during the holiday season are not a new phenomenon — but the Christmas Eve parking lot service at Detroit Lakes' First Lutheran Church had a little something extra: Goats, sheep, oxen, a donkey, and even a camel, courtesy of Vergas's Trowbridge Creek Zoo.

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Bundled up in layers underneath their costumes, First Lutheran Church members (left to right) Chris Udby (Adult Shepherd), Claire Schantzen (Mary), Nora Shantzen (Angel) and Bryson Udby (Joseph) participated in the church's Live Nativity service on Thursday, Dec. 24. (Submitted photo)

The parking lot at Detroit Lakes' First Lutheran Church was packed full late on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 24. Though the church building itself remained closed to the public due to pandemic safety concerns, the parking lot and adjacent green space were filled with cars, vans, SUVs and trucks of all sizes — not to mention a camel, an ox, a donkey, and several sheep and goats.

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Carl the Camel and his friends from Trowbridge Creek Zoo paid a visit to Detroit Lakes' First Lutheran Church on Thursday, Dec. 24, to participate in a Live Nativity service. (Submitted photo)

Most of the time, these animals are permanent residents of Vergas' Trowbridge Creek Zoo, but on Christmas Eve, they could be found in a makeshift "manger" outside First Lutheran, taking part in a Live Nativity service. Church youth members Claire Schantzen and Bryson Udby portrayed Mary and Joseph, while Chris Udby and Nora Shantzen portrayed an adult shepherd and an angel, respectively.

"It was wonderful," said First Lutheran Pastor Lauryl Ivers. "On a freezing cold night, we had a packed parking lot."


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Cars, SUVs, vans and trucks of all sizes filled the parking lot of Detroit Lakes' First Lutheran Church late Thursday afternoon, Dec. 24, for the church's Live Nativity service, which was held outdoors. (Submitted photo)

"It was really cold, but it was a lot of fun," she added. "It was just a joy to be together and celebrate Christmas in this way."

Inside the church building, First Lutheran's worship team performed live music in the sanctuary and its pastors delivered the sermon from the church's second story windows, so the congregation could wave to them from the parking lot (and vice versa).

For those unable to attend in person, the service (both indoor and outdoor components) was webcast live on the church's Facebook page, where it can still be viewed.

Later that evening, about 9 p.m., the congregation gathered once more in the First Lutheran parking lot for a "candlelight" Christmas eve service, where they were asked to bring their flashlights and cellphones to light up the night as saxophonist Rich Johnson played "Stille Nacht (Silent Night)."

"It was beautiful, really beautiful," Ivers said. "We got so many comments from people afterwards that with all the (pandemic-related) challenges, we could do something that would lift everyone's spirits and give us joy."

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