Christmas Eve in 1972 was a Sunday. This is why the Sunday School at the Ash Vale Methodist Church planned a special Christmas procession on that Sunday morning. The idea of Mary and Joseph accompanied by a group of shepherds and the three Wise Men travelling to Bethlehem, appealed to the children and so a plan was hatched to produce something the people of Ash would remember and talk about for years to come.
I, as a new Sunday School Teacher, was one of the team elected to ensure the planned procession took place. My daughter, a newly recruited pupil at the Sunday School was also excited to help.
Many suggestions were considered and rejected. The shepherds should have some sheep and if possible lambs with them. Wasn’t a new born lamb one of the gifts presented to the Baby Jesus ? Enquiries were made but it transpired that sheep, and especially lambs, were not available, so this suggestion had to be shelved.
However, someone was found who could walk with the children whilst playing an accordion. For the next five weeks he, and the children practised their Christmas Carols.
We found an animal refuge that was prepared to lend us a Donkey for the day and they would deliver and collect the Donkey to meet our timing.
So on that Sunday Morning a transporter was met by forty, or so, Sunday School Children at the end of Wharf Road and a Donkey was off loaded.
Now every donkey I had ever seen, and certainly all the pictures I had seen in the Children’s Bible were of a creature that was about half the size of a small pony In the Children’s Bible, Mary was the only rider and she overflowed on all sides of the steed. The donkey that lumbered out of the transporter was huge. About five feet tall with enough space on his back to accommodate the whole Sunday School. We opted for Mary and Joseph together with three companions to ride and the rest of the ‘tribe’ to follow singing Christmas Carols.
Arriving at the Church we were met by the Minister, Bernard, who had thoughtfully brought a bucket and spade with him, in case of accidents. The idea was that the Children should celebrate Christmas and still be there when worshippers arrived for the morning service at 11.00 o’clock. And of course so would Mary, Joseph, the three Kings, Shepherds and, the Donkey.
Entry into the Church was simple enough, the doors were wide enough and it just needed a turn to the right and all would be well. This was when Neddy displayed his thespian independence. As soon as his front half was in, he stopped. He became rooted to the spot. I experienced my first example of an immovable object. We pushed, we pulled we pushed again, we offered carrots and pulled but to no avail. Neddy was not going in any further. But our attempts to put him in reverse were also no good. He had decided that he was there and was going to stay there. Front legs, head and shoulders in the Church and rear quarters firmly filling the doorway. Then, oh catastrophe, the congregation started to arrive. No way to get past this impenetrable blockage so they had to use Minister’s door and so were able to take part in the Service. Bernard was very amused but we faced to problem of getting Neddy out when his transport arrived to take him home.
By Mike Jacobs