Seeking tradition this Advent season, I sent a message to Holmes United Methodist church in rural Reynolds, N.D., asking if they would be hosting their living nativity, held annually since 1988. Sure enough, on Sunday, Dec. 20, beginning at 2 p.m., they are offering a COVID-conscious living nativity. From the safety and comfort of their vehicles, people can enjoy a live reenactment of the events that occurred around the birth of Jesus.

My family and I will be in one of those vehicles. I long for tradition during Christmastime, which became apparent to me when we boarded a Christmas cruise a few years ago. While the Caribbean cruise with extended family was a once-in-a-lifetime event, I declared to my husband I prefer to be close to home on Christmas.

I asked Pastor Rob Salmonson, 35, who serves Holmes and two other rural churches, why their living nativity is so important to continue this year — beyond the delight of his 6-month-old son, Alex, playing the role of baby Jesus.

“This year, maybe more than ever before, we need to be reminded the darkness that seems to be surrounding us and filling our thoughts is not going to extinguish the true light of the world,” he said. “Over the course of 2,000 years, the darkness has not been able to overcome the light. It’s not going to happen now. This is a reminder to all of us, the birth of Christ will give us the light that the darkness cannot overcome.”

Pre-COVID, Holmes Methodist Church averaged 40 regular weekly attendees. Through the summer, they went to a drive-in style service, back to in-person services with social distancing and masks in the fall and now, at the recommendation of their bishop and church conference, are hosting online-only services.

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At the Ollman farm in rural Reynolds, N.D., the Holmes United Methodist Church annually hosts a live Christmas nativity reenactment. Shown in the photo is the 2019 event. This year, to follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and safety precautions, the event continues with a drive-up style, using a FM radio transmitter for attendees to listen. Twenty cars will watch at a time. (Submitted photo)
At the Ollman farm in rural Reynolds, N.D., the Holmes United Methodist Church annually hosts a live Christmas nativity reenactment. Shown in the photo is the 2019 event. This year, to follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and safety precautions, the event continues with a drive-up style, using a FM radio transmitter for attendees to listen. Twenty cars will watch at a time. (Submitted photo)
I’ve never attended Holmes and don’t know anyone who does. I’ve always wanted to attend their living nativity and have seen coverage and photos of it in past years. I regularly drive by a sign with their church name on it, and I know where to turn to get there.

This year, in the midst of my darkest year, I’ll be at Holmes living nativity. I need reminders of the light and of the hope that embodies Christmas.

My admiration for all types of ministries that reach different kinds of people runs deep. This year, more than ever, I appreciate ministers and church members seeking new ways to carry on traditions while staying safe during a health pandemic. Our college-age son will narrate a Christmas program in the church he attends. Our daughters will participate in a virtual Christmas church program, which reminds me we still need to record their lines and narration to send to the pastor.

Sara Ollman has attended Holmes Methodist Church since 1993. She shared with me the idea came from church member Paul Lenz in 1988. Sara’s husband, Dwight, who has attended the church since 1978, had an arena attached to the barn where the church started to host the living nativity. Production has continued to evolve since 1988.

“This year, it just means so much more than ever,” Ollman said. “We were really disappointed that it wasn’t going to happen until a fellow church member came up with the idea of using our haymow and the FM transmitter we used for our drive-up services. I think having a bit of normalcy is what everyone needs. Of course, the biggest reason is to spread the good news of great joy that a savior was born! We have had so many people thank us over the years for reminding them what Christmas is really all about.”

Twenty cars at a time will park to face the barn and tune into the radio station while watching the live reenactment. Parking attendants will help direct cars to make sure everyone has a chance to participate. If interested, you can find more details on the Holmes United Methodist Church Facebook event page. I’ll patiently sit, with anticipation and joy, for my turn to feel a bit of renewed hope and tradition while experiencing my first living nativity.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke. To read more of Katie Pinke's The Pinke Post columns, click here.