AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MANGER
by DAN VAN VEEN on December 21, 2018
Drawing attention to Christ during the Christmas season can become a challenge for churches as so much hype and media attention is given to the materialistic side of Christmas. But this year, Pastor Bryan Jarrett and Northplace Church in Sachse, Texas, found a unique way to bring people’s attention to the significance of Christmas — a wooden manger.
For some, a manger could seem to be a rather common religious symbol during the Christmas season. However, that isn’t the case for Northplace Church. This congregation now has a manger that, once seen, may never be forgotten as it can literally hold a ton of hay.
Earlier this summer, while working through the creative process surrounding Christmas, the manger theme was chosen to be used throughout the interior of the church. The platform, the lobby, promotional materials, and even T-shirts all feature manger scenes to help visually support Jarrett’s sermon series focused on the portal God chose to visibly arrive — the manger.
“Over the last 20 years, the highest grossing movies have been ones where the central figure has some kind of superhuman power, is from some other universe, and somehow gets to our world and saves the day,” Jarrett says. “That’s basically the plotline for God . . . and the basic portal He used, where God became an exile to save the exiles, is the manger.”
With all the manger-themed sites located on the inside of the church, it was recommended that a manger be set up in front of the church.
“I told them that if we’re going to have a manger outside, it can’t be to scale — not life size — it was going to have to be big to draw attention,” Jarrett says. “My part of it ended there. The team took it and handed the project to volunteers.”
Linda Dugger, the events organizer for the church for the past 12 years, took over the project and began imagining what would be needed to really bring attention to the manger.
“We have a circular drive that’s about 100 feet long, so I knew the manger would have to be pretty significant for people to notice it,” Dugger says. With the help of her husband, who’s a builder, they started to sketch up the plans.
Familiar with the phrase, “Everything’s bigger in Texas”? That’s where the Duggers went — bigger!
Handing the schematic to one of the church’s small groups made up of people ideally suited for the project — ranchers and farmers — the project got underway.
Approximately a month and 2,000 pounds of lumber — 700 feet — later, a massive manger reached into the sky. About 20 feet tall, 20 feet long, and 18 feet wide the bolted-together manger is next to impossible not to notice.
Dugger says that the small group, with help from some friends, built the manger at the home of one of their members as he had the equipment and materials needed to pull off this (per Jarrett’s request) “not-to-scale” sermon emphasis.
“Once they had it done, they took it apart and hauled it to the church and set it up here,” Dugger explains. “It took them about a day to set it up and fill it with about a ton of hay.”
The bottom of this eye-stopping manger is protected by six-foot walls to help keep strong winds from potentially knocking it over.
“Once we had it up and got to looking at it,” Jarrett says, “we began to wonder, How big is this thing? So, we contacted Guinness World Records.
The church learned that Guinness didn’t have a category for mangers, but it did have one for Nativities – the tallest characters being about 18 feet tall, which meant the Northplace manger would be far too large of scale for that Nativity.
“We were told that as far as they knew, this is the largest manger in the world,” Jarrett says.
Jarrett says that original idea behind the manger was for it to be a conversation piece for church families to initiate conversations about the advent series. However, as the size far surpassed his expectations, the result has been an incredible amount of attention by people outside the church.
“We’ve had a lot of TV, radio, and print media sources out here telling people about it,” Jarrett says. “As it’s lit up at night, people are driving by the manger all night long to see it.”
The publicity generated by the manger, additional church events, and what Jarrett sees as a powerful move of the Spirit in the church, has led to Northplace experiencing record-breaking attendance.
After the Christmas season concludes, the church will consider ways to repurpose the manger for Easter, as they don’t have a place to store the lumber. But if they don’t see a clear way to repurpose it, the lumber will be donated to a local charity.
“We wanted to get people’s attention and draw them to the church in a creative way that they would remember,” Dugger states. “We wanted everyone to know, the minute they pull into our part of our neighborhood, why we celebrate Christmas.”
One might say, “Goal achieved — and then some.”