GREENFIELD — It was Christmastime, and Vickie Schmidt was listening to the radio.

“They were mentioning how few Nativity scenes there were,” she recalls. “It kind of struck me that I hadn’t seen very many.”

She looked around when she was out driving and saw two. And she took it upon herself to increase that number. Schmidt talked to friends at Trinity Park United Methodist Church in Greenfield, and over the next couple of years they built a silhouette set for the church, as well as some versions they sold to individuals for their homes.

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When there’s a Nativity scene up at a local church, there’s often a story — and a labor of love — behind it.

Charlottesville United Methodist Church has an outdoor Nativity set. It also has an indoor set, given by a former pastor as a gift to the church. The indoor set had no shepherds, and a church member quietly built and painted shepherds for it and added them to the scene.

“No one knew who did it for a long time,” said the Rev. Marianne Nichols, the church’s pastor. Even after the maker’s identity was discovered, he shied away from recognition for the deed.

The Rev. Phil Edwards, senior pastor of Fortville Church of the Nazarene, said the church has a papier-mâché Nativity with porcelain faces and hands that is always incorporated into the church’s indoor seasonal decor. “It has been a part of our church for many years and always adds to the meaning of Christmas each year, he said.

Schmidt thought a set would be meaningful at Trinity Park, but she needed a design.

She had seen a silhouette Nativity at her daughter’s Christmas party with the Cru ministry in Orlando. Wanting to make one herself, she found silhouette images online and used a projector to shine the images on wood so she could trace outlines of the figures.

Some men at the church cut them out. Some women of the church helped her apply two coats of white paint. Now the set rests outside the church at 207 W. Park Ave. with a spotlight on it.

The next year, Schmidt and the others took orders for a smaller set — Mary, Joseph and the creché — and sold 10 or 11 sets to homeowners. Schmidt has one herself. She doesn’t plan to make any more but is willing to share the patterns.

“The idea was to get more Nativity scenes spread throughout Greenfield,” Schmidt said. “It’s sure good to see Nativity scenes out, because it’s the reason we celebrate this holiday, as far as I’m concerned.”

Artist Deborah Smith, who with husband Gerry provided the scene outside Bradley United Methodist Church, also thinks about the scene being a reminder. She thinks of children who attend preschool at the church seeing it when they arrive for class. “You like having something that shows the biblical aspect of Christmas,” she said.

Smith — the artist who painted Whitcomb, the bison statue bearing Hancock County scenes for Indiana’s bicentennial — has had to touch up the Nativity scene at Bradley only once in the more than 20 years since she first painted it.

The plywood for the set came from a portable stage no longer needed after the church’s 1995 renovation, said retiring church office manager Sandy Yavor. Smith said a church member who was a farmer donated the manger to go with the painted images.

“I always thought it would be neat to do something like that,” she said of the project. “It was very fun. I appreciate the traditions.”

West of Greenfield, a similar tradition is carried out by a group of men at New Palestine United Methodist Church. On the day after Thanksgiving, they pull the figures for a Nativity scene out of a church member’s barn in Philadelphia and set them up outside the church at 3565 S. County Road 500W.

Denny Woods, who has built shelves at the church and also donation boxes for food pantry or shelter donations, built the stable that surrounds the figures.

“I didn’t really have a pattern,” he said. “I just had an idea how I wanted it to look from seeing others at different places.”

Each November he and the other men set up the scene. Each January they try to find a not-as-cold day to pull the stakes from frigid ground and put it away.

They’ve learned some things over the years, said Lee Collier, another part of the crew. These days, they leave the figures’ large cardboard boxes in the barn; about four years ago, frigid winter winds whipped a couple of empty boxes off a trailer. Over the years, Collier said, they’ve all gotten better at setting up and taking down.

“It’s getting down to a science,” he said. “It’s usually the same guys … we’ve come to know who does what.”

And they hear appreciation for their work, whether it’s a compliment from a fellow church member or a passing motorist honking and waving as the scene is set up.

“It’s kind of a tradition that these gentlemen I’ve worked with have come to enjoy,” Collier said. “For me, it’s just a joy to be able to kick off the Christmas season with putting the display out.”{/div}

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Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at annesmith@greenfieldreporter.com