The Amicable Congregational Church is keeping Christ in Christmas by recasting the messiah as a baby girl named Hope.
Minister Bill Sterritt remade the original Christmas story in modern times, and added an overtly-progressive theme to the tale of a special baby being born under less than ideal conditions.
The Biblical character of Joseph is represented by Jose, an out-of-work migrant worker in this country illegally. Mary is Maura, a pregnant teen who runs away from her home in Connecticut after being shunned for her unexplained pregnancy. The Angel Gabriel is a homeless black man named Gabe.
“Just Biblically speaking if you take the story they are on the road and can’t afford a room,” Sterritt told me when I stopped by on Friday afternoon. “If that isn’t being homeless, I don’t know what is. We have this vision of the Christmas story being warm and gentle. The manger was a feeding trough. It was a damp cave meant for cattle and sheep.”
He represents the magi with a Buddhist, a Muslim and a Hindu. The lead role is played by a girl named Hope.
“The Christmas story is one of hope,” he said. “Once that came to me, Jesus became a girl.”
The characters exist in two incarnations.
Passersby on Main Road know the wooden statue version of the characters that make up the nativity scene outside the church just south of Tiverton Four Corners. Sterritt commissioned local chainsaw artist Michael Higgins to make the figures for the church in 1999.
Before getting to work, Higgins wanted to know more about Sterritt’s vision and he asked him to write a story about it. The minister, who has been at the church for just shy of 25 years, obliged. Over the course of the next several holiday seasons, Sterritt would write down more of the story and Higgins would physically craft more of the figures from giant blocks of wood.
Sterritt delved so deep into his characters he ended up writing a 26-page remake of the original Christmas story – the birth of Jesus as if it happened in modern day Springfield, Illinois.
It’s an amazing tale, in its own right, that Sterritt adapts smoothly to fit with modern-day social ills. Through his characters, he explores hard times for the working class, immigration, alcoholism, spousal abuse and desperation. He even delves into the complicated politics of the Middle East.
Ultimately, all of these issues meet up in abandoned lot in run-down Illinois town with a dried up economy where a very special baby is born to a homeless couple.
I’m pleased to say that Sterritt agreed to let RI Future republish his story in daily excerpts. Between now and Christmas, we’ll serialize his modern adaptation of the baby Jesus story, in the form of occasional blog posts starting later today.
I hope it honors Christmas in a way that reminds us that the less fortunate among us aren’t the least important among us. I also hope it proves an easy and convenient way to consume local, original, long-form creative writing during the busy holiday season.
You can read the entire Amicable Nativity Story series here.