Mount Angel Parish photo
Deacon Hector Carios of Mount Angel temporarily played the role of a wise man while taking the town's traveling Nativity scene last year.
Mount Angel Parish photo
Deacon Hector Carios of Mount Angel temporarily played the role of a wise man while taking the town's traveling Nativity scene last year.
MOUNT ANGEL — A few Sundays ago, three wise men appeared high on the hill. They've advanced every three or four days, getting closer to the deepest yearning of their hearts.

As Advent goes by, an almost-life-size Nativity scene moves down Mount Angel's slopes and toward St. Mary's Church here. The kingly wooden figures and their camels are well behind Mary, Joseph and their donkey — but they'll catch up.

Each year the spread-out entourage goes the same direction, coming from the east. By Christmastime, Mary and Joseph will reach the lawn of St. Mary Church and the baby Jesus will appear, to be adored by sheep, shepherds and an angel aloft. At Epiphany, the astrologers will arrive and the scene will be complete.  

This is the fourth Advent for the nomadic Nativity, conceived by Catholic volunteers here as a way to evangelize in public during Advent, keeping the real reason for Christmas before everyone's eyes.  

"It's a good reminder of Christmas," says Dorothea Franken, a resident of Mount Angel Towers senior community who each morning walks up the incline to Mount Angel Abbey.  

On occasion, walkers will see Marilyn Hall skittering amid the Nativity figures wielding a hot glue gun, securing a detached beard or fastening a loose cloak. She also takes charge of moving them along their path.

Hall, a mother of eight and a grandmother of seven, says the project has proven to be one of her most meaningful Advent activities.

Harold Dieker, a retired farmer, and Fran Piatz have helped Hall set up, along with a daily cast of passers-by inspired by the figures.

"Every time we set out to move the figures, people who are taking a walk up the hill just pitch in and help," says Hall. "I meet seminarians from the abbey, Carmelite friars, people on retreat from the Benedictine Sisters, and friends from town who always ask if we need any help. It is always a joy to see who will show up."

The scene and its mobility were inspired by Hall’s aunt and uncle, John and Gerry Beyer. The Beyers have a 30-year-old Nativity set they displayed on rolling farmland along Old Mount Angel Highway just outside of town. The life-size figures had painted faces, clothing and real hair.  

Using the Beyer Nativity scene for inspiration, Ed Douglas employed his carpentry skills to create the figures. His wife Virginia, who is trained as an iconographer, painted the faces. When it came time to dress the wooden forms in real clothes and approximated fur, various groups and individuals stepped forward.

Lisa Bartholmew adopted one of the wise men and dressed him in crown and bracelets, complete with gold chest filled with treasures. Nicole Morris covered the three sheep with soft fleece.

Challenges included making the animals three dimensional. Laura Miller had a noble task to dress Mary and make a realistic donkey.

Hall made the camels and had the time of her life. She raided her sons’ toys and cut a plastic softball for the ridges of the nose and eyes, with another smaller ball inserted for the eyeball. She cut a plastic milk jug for the ears and plastic apple juice bottles for the feet. At Goodwill, she purchased fabric that looked camel-like and even made use of an old toilet seat cover.   

“It was such a wonderful surprise to see how beautifully adorned all the characters were as each one was completed," Hall says. "When they were all put together it was just amazing."
Parishioners know full well that the public grade school is across the street from the church. They want students to see that the season is about Jesus.

"It's one of our ways of trying to partner with people to tell the story about our faith in a way that's homespun and lots of fun," says Benedictine Father Philip Waibel, pastor of St. Mary's. "It's our way of trying to do what we can to put Christ back in Christmas."

"It's a very subtle way to evangelize," says Benedictine Brother Cyril Drnjevic, who often rides his bicycle up and down the hill. "It is inspiring to me that the traveling nativity scene begins on the hill at Mount Angel Abbey, so the Abbey represents 'wise men from the east.' It is a humbling thought."

No one has vandalized or carried out a prank with the sacred scene. Families hosting the figures keep an eye out. But Hall has a backup baby Jesus on hand, just in case.