O Stormy Night: Old City church replaces live animal nativity scene with refugee tent

John McDevitt
December 11, 2018 - 2:48 pm
The Old First Reformed United Church of Christ has replaced its traditional live animal nativity scene with a refugee tent.

John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — You may remember last December: Stormy the cow escaped from the crèche at the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ at Fourth and Race streets in Old City.

It even wondered onto nearby I-95 at 2 a.m. during one of the instances it escaped — yes, Stormy the cow escaped more than once from the church's live animal nativity scene.

Stormy's joyride prompted a stampede of controversy from animal rights groups all over the world, criticizing the church for using animals for entertainment purposes. 

Now, the more than 40 year-old Christmas tradition at the church has ended and been replaced by a refugee tent.

Pastor Michael Caine said the church wanted to try something different this year, so they decided on a refugee nativity scene, tying in today's contentious refugee and immigration issues.

"Jesus and his family were essentially homeless and stateless. Both Mary and Joseph kind of end up displaced from Nazareth because of the census," he noted of the similarities.

The refugee scene depicts Mary and Joseph looking on at baby Jesus inside the makeshift tent, surrounded by jugs of water and blankets. It also includes pictures and stories of real-life refugees hung on a fence nearby.

The refugee scene includes pictures and stories of real-life refugees hung on a fence nearby.
John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

A live donkey will be used for a couple hours on Christmas Eve, however, as congregants play Mary and Joseph and roam the neighborhood, being told there is no room at the inn.

Margo Keys has lived in the neighborhood for about 20 years. She said the end of the live animal tradition is bittersweet.

"I miss the animals, but I'm glad they are making this statement," she said.