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California Churches Tell Biblical Nativity Story Through Living Portraits for Nearly 50 Years

Long Beach (Calif.) CRC’s depiction of the pageant scene, “The Angel Announces the Heavenly Birth.”
Long Beach (Calif.) CRC’s depiction of the pageant scene, “The Angel Announces the Heavenly Birth.”

Five churches in Long Beach, Calif., resumed their annual Prince of Peace portrait pageant for 2021, welcoming guests to tour 16 staged settings portraying the Nativity story. The tradition was put on hold in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Long Beach Christian Reformed Church has participated since 1973. 

“This is one of my favorite events that we do,” said service and events director Nicole Cecil. “When my family first began attending this church, I was 12 years old. This was the first major event that I participated in at the church, and I have been a part of it since—nearly 20 years. 

“As I’ve gotten older, it’s become so impressive to me that these churches from different denominations come together to tell one story. I’ve heard countless stories about the pageant being the first time someone has heard the real reason for the season or that someone is bringing their friend who isn’t a believer. That just adds to the joy of this event for me.”

The five churches—Long Beach CRC, The Neighborhood Church, St. Luke’s Lutheran, University Baptist, and St. Cornelius Roman Catholic—are within two city blocks of each other. A pageant committee, with representatives from each congregation, coordinates the yearly event. Long Beach CRC stages four scenes and hosts one of six musical presentations. Cecil said this year that included vocal choirs, soloists, and a handbell choir.

The pageant is staged as a series of living portraits, or tableaus, modeled after Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. 

Cecil said the four scenes Long Beach CRC hosts require about 14 actors or actresses, but about 30 volunteers are needed in all to prepare costuming, set the stage and lighting, mark pathways, and all the rest. This year the event ran Dec. 11-12, and Cecil said about 1,200 people came each night. 

Everything to stage the pageant is stored from year to year in a shipping container located in a parking lot of one of the churches. “We have work days before and after the pageant to ensure that everything is returned and stored appropriately,” Cecil said. Bob Rutledge, a member of Long Beach CRC, is the congregation’s liaison on the pageant committee. Cecil said he oversees all of the scenes to make sure they are repaired and maintained. 

“We take such joy in getting to share the Nativity story with our community,” Cecil said, thankful for the help of the committee and from all of the volunteers that make it possible.

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