Photo by RED DEER LAKE UNITED CHURCH A church in southwest Calgary is offering a different take on the nativity scene this year with an inclusive, cross-cultural display that includes an Indigenous wise man. An “alternative” nativity scene, starring people of colour and women in atypical roles recounting the Christian tradition of the birth of Jesus Christ, is seen in a recent handout photo. The depiction includes AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, far right, astronaut Roberta Bondar, second from right, and musician Michael Franti, third from right.

Calgary church’s inclusive, cross-cultural nativity scene turning heads

CALGARY — A church in southwest Calgary is offering a different take on the nativity scene this year with an inclusive, cross-cultural display that includes an Indigenous wise man.

Rev. Nick Coates at Red Deer Lake United Church says he was expecting a pushback from congregants and others, but everyone has loved the updated version of Christ’s birth.

One of the wise men is meant to look like Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde and the other two magi are Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar and musician Michael Franti.

The shepherds are shown as poor teenagers.

Coates says all of the characters are brown-skinned as they would have been at the original nativity.

Artist and church member Larry Stilwell says he values inclusivity, but wasn’t seeing that reflected in traditional nativity scenes.

“Since the 14th century, European master painters have formed our visual opinion of what the nativity looks like, thereby shaping what it can mean,” he said. “So I chose to step away from tradition.

“By contemporizing some of the traditional imagery and by decolonizing some of the characters, the hope is to create a scene that sparks curiosity, engagement and wonder, and causes people to … enter into this story in a new way,” Coates added.

“I hope this nativity can cause people to stop, engage and wonder what does Christmas really mean.”

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