WADENA, Minn. -- A Nativity scene that had been a Wadena city park centerpiece for many years and was sold to the northwest Minnesota town’s Ministerial Association has found a home after the constitutionality of the display was questioned by a foundation advocating the separation of church and state.
Wadena's Nativity scene will be displayed on a lawn across from the town’s hospital -- Tri-County Health Care -- on Highway 71 north. And it also may have a lot of company as a town resident is planning to try to break the world record of displaying the most Nativity scenes/sets in one area. The record is 2,500.
The Wadena Ministerial Association made the decision on placement of the Nativity after purchasing it from the city of Wadena for $25 when the City Council voted unanimously earlier this month to move the scene to avoid a possible lawsuit.
The display depicts Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus and an angel carrying a banner with the message, "Gloria in excelsis deo," which is Latin for "Glory to God in the highest." The city also had erected lighted arches along pathways to the scene.
Wadena resident Tyler Rud had brought the issue to the attention of the Wisconsin-based organization Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) after he saw the Nativity on display in Burlington Northern Park last year.
“We understand that many in the community may wish to continue with the City’s tradition. Despite that public sentiment, local governments may not violate the U.S. Constitution on the basis of it being popular among area residents,” wrote FFRF Attorney Patrick Elliott in a letter to the City of Wadena.
"We're delighted to assume ownership of the Nativity and will gladly display it ...," said Immanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Nate Loer, a member of the ministerial association.
Several businesses offered to display the Nativity scene and the ministerial association discussed different opportunities before deciding on the hospital location.
Plans are in the works for a lighting ceremony in early December, Loer said. Details will be shared in the near future.
"We're planning to get it placed by early December and have it displayed through Christmas," he said.
Meanwhile, Wadena residents are planning to display Nativity scenes in yards throughout town.
Dani Sworski, of Wadena, created a Facebook event called "Wadena Nativity Display" last week asking people to join her in the effort to break the world record.
"With much thought and an overwhelming amount of discouragement felt after our great little town made the news for losing the right to display the Nativity in the city park, I decided to check out a few things," she said. "I say that this is the perfect time as a city to band together and remember the reason for the season and to keep Christ in Christmas."
People began sharing her post and inviting people to the participate. In just a few days, thousands of people had shared and invited others to the event.
As of early last week, 4,000 people were invited, more than 300 people said they are participating and more than 300 are interested in the event.
"It kind of took me by surprise," Sworski said of the outpouring of support. "It made me proud of my town."
The plan is to have citizens and businesses display Nativity scenes on their private property from Friday through Christmas.
Several local businesses have ordered additional Nativity sets and Sworski is encouraging people to shop locally.