And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. - Luke 2:12

WORTHINGTON - Sharing the meaning of Christmas is what’s important to the organizers of The Nativity Experience at Westminster Presbyterian Church, and they can’t think of a better way to get that message across than with nativities.

Hence, hundreds of nativity sets will be exhibited on Friday and Saturday in the church’s Geneva Hall and adjacent rooms, with only a free-will offering requested in exchange for viewing the artistic arrangements.

Refreshments, including beverages and cookies, will be served.

“If it helps even one person to change their outlook about the season, it’s worth the work,” said Marlis Anderson, who with her sister, Pat Honius, has spearheaded the event’s organization for eight years.

“We want people to leave having enjoyed the nice display but also carrying with them the true meaning of Christmas.”

Members of two Westminster groups - Koinonia and the Piecemakers (a sewing unit) - also volunteer their time to make The Nativity Experience possible.

“I’d heard of other places that did this kind of thing, and the Piecemakers got going with it,” explained Anderson of the event’s origins.

“Because we (the Piecemakers) talk and sew, and sometimes we just talk, and then we come up with ideas.”

In an effort to entice more guests to visit The Nativity Experience this year, Honius is adding a component for children.

“The new thing we’re having is a room for children, ages 3 to 7,” said Honius.

“We’ll have stories, flannel boards, coloring sheets and other nativity-related activities so the kids can have their own nativity experience while their parents look at the display,” she detailed, noting that children in the specified age group are often too young to see the nativities at table-top height.

“It’s just the kind of thing that’s more appreciated by adults, or by children ages 10 or so and up,” Honius explained.

The Nativity Experience centers on the story of Christ’s birth, but the featured items are often creative marvels.

“The pieces themselves are works of art, too,” said Anderson.

Nativity sets for the display come not only from church members’ private collections but also from those of others in the community and region.

“Iona Heusinkveld of Rushmore has hundreds of nativity sets and is bringing many this year, and I have a dear friend, Barbara, from Door County who gives me a new nativity set annually to share here,” mentioned Anderson.

“It’s interesting how things have snowballed.”

Anderson and Honius credit Pat Kunze, another Westminster member and former church secretary, with doing a good deal of the initial computer work that put them on track for The Nativity Experience, which nevertheless requires dozens of hours of work each year, and numerous volunteers, to mount.

Besides inviting the community at large to attend, organizers are welcoming residents from two local nursing homes to the display earlier on Friday.

“We’re trying to make this something for the whole community, and we want to touch as many people as we can,” assured Honius.

“It’s so amazing, with over 450 nativity sets and no two alike.”

“You get pretty awestruck when you see all of these on display,” agreed Anderson.

“And we felt it would set the right tone for the Christmas season, helping people remember why we are celebrating; it’s not for the presents we give or hope to get.”

The goal, the sisters agree, is to create an uplifting entry into the Advent season.

“We just want as many people to come and see this as possible,” said Honius.

“And it’s a beautiful setting to sit and have a cup of coffee and a cookie, too.”

The Nativity Experience takes place at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 230 Clary St., Worthington, from 4 to 8 p.m Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Enter at the east door off the parking lot. An elevator allows handicapped access to the exhibit. A freewill offering will be accepted; refreshments are served. Anyone interested in sharing a nativity set for the weekend may drop it off at the church after 4 p.m. Thursday and pick it up at 4 p.m. Saturday.