2022 FOTC Meeting 
Moore Methodist Museum, St.Simons Island, GA
November 12, 2022

The 2022 annual meeting will be held on St. Simons Island, Georgia at the Moore Methodist Museum/Epworth by the Sea on November 12. The one day event will allow us to spend time in the scenic retreat center.

Please plan to arrive Friday for dinner/meet and greet and Sunday after breakfast you will be free to further explore the island and environs. Nearby airports include Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, Brunswick, GA; Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, Savannah, GA; and Jacksonville International Airport, Jacksonville, FL.

The picture at the top of the page shows the initial work of setting up the collection of nativities they received from the Upper Room after its historic closing in 2019. Plans are in motion to make it an exciting event, and we expect a large turnout after 3 years of not seeing our friends face-to-face. Registration will open after the first of the year, so stay tuned. Here is your 2022 host Carol Williams. She is from the Sunshine State of Florida, and is an excellent choice to lead us. 

Past Conventions

Neil Allen #1 Ecuador

The 2021 Convention was meant to be an in-person event.  Covid-19 had other plans.

On November 6th, as a gentle rain fell in Oregon's Valley where Portland is located 87 peoplehj joined us on a zoom call.

Neil Allen - Event host - scrolled through some of his thousands of photos, showing his own and portions from other collection as the guests arrived.  

At 9 am the 2021 Convention began with the business of Friends of the Creche was intertwined with each of the board members and presenters sharing their favorite or nearby sets.

Neil Showed his ostrich egg nativity.  One of two made for him by Ruth McCool of Muncie, Indiana.  He described how the first carved egg had slipped from his hands and struck a ladder (shattering into many pieces) had nearly broken his hearts in the process.  However, Ruth made him a second egg (the last of her eggs - she no longer owns this magnificent birds).  Neil said, "It reminds us that not everything we do goes according to plan, and so we must pick up the pieces and move forward.   He was talking about an egg- but really about the 2021 Convention which was a huge challenge through a pandemic.

Thanking his team members Neil turned the celebration to Helen Holder who offered a cleaver spoof based on our 20 years as an organization.  

Three presenters added their "My Nativity Story" to the fun.  Patty Harringer shared her heroing story of losing her collection, house and treasured memories during the 2020 Wildfires.  She reminded us that life is a journey not a destination.  Enjoy the trip!  There were few dry eyes on the screen.

Carol Williams was introduced as the 2022 Annual Meeting Host, and also share her Nativity Story.  The 2022 Event will take place on November 12th at the Moore Methodist Museum, located on St. Simmons Island, Georgia.  The museum is now host to the Upper Room's collection.  They are in the process of remodeling and adding sets to the collection.  

Our Guest Speaker was Patti Rokus, a..k.a. "The Rock Lady" who shared her passion for the nativity, song and wonderful videos.

Our BIG NEWS on the 2023 Convention slatted for Washington, D.C. wound up in two major computer failures.  Undaunted we trudged forward.  That video is available on our Webpage and Facebook page.

Neil Allen

Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem 

What a great host ye were! 

By Mike Whalen 

Glencarin Museum 2017

As with Monck’s Corner, South Carolina in 2016, Bethlehem (2017) was one of those places Friends of the Creche always wanted to go for a meeting or convention. Both seem to allude us, however, until recently and in the case of Bethlehem mainly through the efforts of Margo Dixon assisted by Dora Davenport, the dream came true in the fall of 2017. 

At first glance, one might think this city which takes its name from a much more famous one in the mid-east, has seen better days. Its charm though soon captured all of us, even the old rusty remains of the Bethlehem steel works that provided the steel for nearly half of America’s high rises. Adjacent to the steel works is the new sprawling casino and shopping mall. Bethlehem, past and present, side by side. 

As with our previous gatherings, the two days prior provided optional excursions to places of interest nearby to creche lovers, The Byer’s Choice factory and museum, Shady Maple super lunch /gift store, the Glencairn Museum and the National Christmas Center all did not disappoint in the least to get us into the mood of what we all love to do and seem, namely learn and view nativities. 

2017 Convention at Church

Because of the deeply rooted connections with the Moravian church in the Bethlehem area, many of the talks and events were steeped in learning about their customs, especially involving the Christmas season.  The Moravian star shownbrightly in this firmament and one could go few places with seeing it in some form or another. 

Our lead off speaker spoke on how to make your own star, a simple one of twenty-six points to one of one hundred and ten points and the mathematical calculations needed to attempt that. Thomas McCullough, assistant archivist for the Moravian archives in Bethlehem set the tone by giving the history of the Moravian church in America as well as the tradition of the Moravian star. 

Following Mr. McCullough, Kate Kohen addressed our group about the twenty-year tradition of the Luminaria night in early December when much of the city is lit by thousands of bags filled with sand and a candle. This wonderful tradition was begun by a small group of people in one neighborhood and now provides the funds for an entire ministry dedicated to those seeking to fill common needs such as shelter and a safe haven, very much in keeping with the “Bethlehem stable” connection. 

Wrapping up the morning session, Dave Landis or better described as a Wiseman from the east (appearing in costume), described an even older event, namely the live nativity. This staging of the first Christmas uses the talents and effort of many including the effort to gather the funds needed to pay for it. One such item in the budget is the “animal package” consisting of one cow, one mule, one camel and two sheep and various other costs needed to keep the costumes in decent shape, a working sound system etc. etc. Of course, Mr. Landis had us all laughing about the one participant in the pageant that got away one year and had to be chased down the street. 

In the ballroom, also on display were the works of artists, Michael Palan and Karen Loccisanowho built elaborate detailed Flemish barns that we got a glimpse of last year in South Carolina. They also did a presentation on Saturday of how they collaborate on such a project, 

Of course, running Thursday evening through Saturday, one could find ten plus vendors set up in the room adjacent selling all manner of nativities from the world over, both commercially made and made one by one by hand. This is always a high light of any convention and eagerly awaited by our members. 

Also, in a room nearby Michael Stump showed several elaborately detailed presepiand was on hand to answer questions about his creation. Outside in the hallway was a backdrop of shepherds heading for the stable in which registrants were encouraged to be photographed making them appear to be joining them to seek the newly born Child, which we all truly are at least spiritually. 

The highlight of the convention for many was the short trip to the Moravian church in Nazareth for a Love Feast. Many wondered exactly what that was and all soon discovered that it was basically their candlelight service done on Christmas eve. This festive event staged early for our benefit included singing the wonderful carol, “Morning Star,” as well as other traditional other carols familiar to almost all of us. We were then served a sweet cake and some coffee and lit our candles as the light of Christ slowly spread through the congregation. The choir along with instruments indeed made it a reverent as well as joyful occasion. 

Prior to the service, we were served a wonderful meal in the downstairs hall made by the members of the community. See the menu card pictured in the centerfold of this issue as well as some other wonderful moments from the “Love Feast.” 

Another highlight of the same evening was viewing of the Putz, set up each year with great loving care by the community. Basically, it is the story of salvation with lights and music. A husband and wife team were on hand to answer questions about the tradition both before and after dinner as well as hosts during the supper itself. 

Saturday provided more opportunities to stuff our suitcases with more things from the Manger Mart as well as hear Michael Palan and Karen Loccisanodescribe more in detail about how they get inspiration for their work and what is involved in the detailed work they do. The piece on display depicted a creche maker’s workshop with several tiny creches within the piece itself. The intricate work in creating a crib builder's workshop area in various stages of the creative process was simply stunning. 

Carol Reifinger, a retired pastor of the Central Moravian church in Bethlehem, closed the formal presentations with the opportunity for all make a Moravian star as a souvenir of the convention.  

Friends of the Creche closed our gathering as always with the announcements of the winners of the silent auction. This year's most coveted item appeared to be a set of hand painted nativity made from Dutch, wooden shoes (see picture in centerfold). 

Rose Fremerthen tickled the ivories in the lobby of the hotel for our usual carol sing prior to the final night banquet where some old friends had the opportunity to meet some new ones. A good time was had by all. 

Dora Davenport and Margo Dixon

A Houston look back

The hurricane clouds were swirling off the southern coast of the Mexican peninsula, but inside the Sheraton north hotel in Houston, Texas things were well underway to host Friends of the Creche eighth convention last October. Lovers of the nativity tradition from far and wide arrived in Houston to once again learn about and share the fellowship with other fellow collectors as well as the warm welcome served up by our hosts along with the barbecue. 

The early arrivals had a chance to discover the historic painted churches of Texas built by immigrants mostly from Germany and Czechoslovakia to the area nearly one hundred plus years prior. This pre tour did not disappoint in that one felt transported to a different place and time considering where these churches are located, basically in the middle of nowhere, no disrespect intended to a state as big as Texas.

The artistic detail of the ceiling and wall paintings, the historic statuary and the great care and love given to the preservation of these churches made for a very nice day along with a lunch served in an open garden adjacent to one of the churches.  

The following day, those so choosing headed to the historic seaside area known as Galveston, itself a victim of a horrific hurricane in 1910, resulting in thousands lost due to poor early warning back then.

houston 2015 convention 116.jpg

The famous Galveston Strand gave visitors two opportunities to add to their collections, namely in a Christmas shop and just down the street in the Hendley market selling nativities from the four corners of the world along with tea and cookies bearing a stable scene of course. On the return, a home tour of one of the conventions chairpersons, Audrey Pratt was featured to see her personal collection all beautifully displayed making use of every nook and cranny. A stop to the store ran by Brookwood community home gave members a chance to add one more crèche to their suitcase and benefited a worthwhile cause about which we heard during one of the talks on Friday at the convention.

Music, and more music opened and was heard throughout the convention. What better way to set the tone of a southwest convention than a mariachi band all from one family to welcome us to Houston.

The guitars and trumpets echoed down the halls calling all to the manger of the Christ Child as those gathered sampled some of the tastes of Texas. On Friday morning, reveille was the Praise Singers of the Fallbrook Baptist church who have taken the adage, “to sing is to pray twice “truly to heart. Now with convention goers awakened, Raul Ponce described in detail the wonderful southwestern tradition of Los Pastores which is the reenactment of the angels call to the shepherds to the stable in Bethlehem. David McBroom, better known as the cowboy poet, treated all in attendance to a display of his mastery of self-written verse, reflecting his own life experiences and how God has been present there.  The morning concluded with Ellen Mintz describing the many ways of storing and caring for our crèche collections. For those who were unable to attend the convention, you may find a few of these tips elsewhere in this edition of the Creche Herald, courtesy of Ellen. After lunch, Luke Ellis from the Brookwood Community home spoke on how one small community has made such a difference in the lives of many people with mental and physical limitations as a follow up to our visit made the previous day to their store in old town Spring, Texas. To wind down a wonderful day, Jennifer Leadbetter left us all in stitches with her alphabetical collection of the many contributions Mexico, Spain, France, and assorted other peoples have made to the culture of Texas, including the crèche of course.

Saturday’s events began with non-other than our co-chair and newly elected Vice-President Judy Klein demonstrating the many simple but very attractive ways of displaying our nativity sets as she has done at her Gallery house called Bethlehem in Denton County, that was feature in our magazine in the spring 2015 edition. Next and very much in keeping with the planning for the convention of offering thoughtful topics along with lighter and entertaining ones, Sherri Snedecor, an accomplished vocalist sang some familiar and some new selections we associate with the birth of Christ and did so beautifully. After lunch, Sherrie Lewis described how many of the customs associated with Christmas are often taken for granted and very much rooted in the birth of Christ but have become secularized over the years. To conclude the formal program, a children’s author, Karen Carson read her moving story of how the meaning of Christmas is often missed through the forest of Christmas trees and we were left singing just as we started with the Texas Children’s Choir from Spring Baptist Church. The Lone Star concluded as always with the gala banquet featuring tables decorated with mason jars representing that all-important Texan garden, yellow roses, blue bells and naturally a lone star.  The Statesmen, an all-male singing group concluded both the evening and the convention and reminded all that the stars do really shine big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, just not this night with the approaching tropical storm. (MW)

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