April 17, 2014

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Churches join forces for ‘Breath of Heaven’ live nativity

Students from a Lorain County Joint Vocational School carpentry class move one of the painted backgrounds into place Thursday as they set up a live nativity at Grace Lutheran Church, 310 W. Lorain St., Oberlin. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Students from a Lorain County Joint Vocational School carpentry class move one of the painted backgrounds into place Thursday as they set up a live nativity at Grace Lutheran Church, 310 W. Lorain St., Oberlin. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

OBERLIN — The little town of Bethlehem will come to life this weekend at Grace Lutheran Church in Oberlin.

Members of Bethany Lutheran Church of Wellington and Grace Lutheran Church are hosting their 16th presentation of the “Breath of Heaven” — a nativity scene featuring live actors and animals — 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the church, 310 W. Lorain St.

The presentation is free to the public, but visitors may bring a non-perishable food item that will be donated to the Oberlin Community Shelf.

On Thursday, Lorain County Joint Vocational School students in the carpentry program continued setting up the annual event at the church. Seniors Brandon Beam and Ian Hughes also helped with the project last year, building the sheds and the backdrop, which was painted by the Oberlin High School Art Department, to turn the church’s parking lot into the birthplace of Jesus.

“It’s a lot better than regular high school,” Hughes said of the project. “It’s fun to get out in the community and help out.”

The help from Lorain County JVS was appreciated by Kathy Sklarek, who has been spearheading the event each year.

Sklarek said she came up with the idea for “Breath of Heaven” after seeing a similar indoor display at a church in Fairlawn. She asked church members if they would be on board, and the event has been ongoing during the Christmas holiday for the past 16 years.

“My church is pretty small, so I was wondering how I would pull if off,” Sklarek said of the event’s first year.

“Breath of Heaven” is now a team effort between members of Bethany Lutheran Church, Grace Lutheran Church and the Lorain County JVS carpentry students, who help with setup.

Last year, the event brought a record-breaking crowd of approximately 890 people. This year, Sklarek is hoping to attract at least 1,000 visitors.

This year’s presentation also is dedicated to Dale Zudell, a church member who recently died from cancer. Zudell volunteered for the display, and he donated the donkeys used in the presentation.

“He truly, truly, truly loved this,” Sklarek said. “This was his thing.”

The “Breath of Heaven” presentation has about 60 adult participants, with a shepherd guide taking visitors through the display. Visitors will meet the tax collector, nine shopkeepers, a soldier, King Herod and the inn keeper. The tour ends with the angel of the Lord and a choir of angels — the Firelands High School Select Choir — leading to the Holy family surrounded by live animals.

After the presentation, visitors are invited to the church’s social hall for cookies, hot cocoa and coffee. Each family also will receive a Christmas ornament to hang on their tree at home.

Sklarek said “Breath of Heaven” serves as a reminder of what is important during the holidays.

“The response that the people have when they go through, people have been brought to tears,” she said. “We have return visitors, it seems, a lot. The story never gets old, and it’s a story that Christians want to hear when they start the holidays.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.

If you go

  • “Breath of Heaven,” a nativity scene featuring live actors and animals, will be 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Grace Lutheran Church, 310 W. Lorain St., Oberlin.
  • The presentation is free to the public, but visitors may bring a non-perishable food item that will be donated to the Oberlin Community Shelf.