Sunday, December 17, 2000

Bringing Christmas home to a barn

Holiday service is a family tradition

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — Bob and Bethann Niederman are helping return Christmas to its origins — a barn.

        The Butler County couple has opened the 125-year-old barn on their farm and invited members of Lakota Christian Church to conduct a service there at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

        Though the Niedermans don't attend the church, they are friends of some of its members. The service is open to 50 members of the church's Sunday school class and their children, but if strangers stop by, they won't be turned away.

[photo] Placing chalice and bread on a bale of hay, Laura Weinberger prepares a service in a barn. Daughter Abby, 4, and children's minister Rhonda Hancock watch.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        The service represents Christ's birth in such a place, and gives people a chance to greet one another for the holidays.

        “It's time to stop, relax and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas,” Mrs. Niederman said.

        “This is how Jesus began,” Mr. Niederman added. “He wasn't born in a Holiday Inn.”

        Actually, the barn service is a tradition at the Niederman farm on LeSourdsville-West Chester Road. Mr. Niederman's father, Robert R. Niederman, offered the barn to churches for 20 years.

        The barn is big and white and made with pegs instead of nails. It's graced by a calf, a pony and a llama, too. Come Wednesday, the humble place will be lighted by luminaria and a star.

        “We've had years when it was so cold that the service ended before the hot chocolate was ready to serve,” Mrs. Niederman said.

        Last year, on a cold night, about 100 people attended — and enjoyed every minute, said church member Laura Weinberger of Liberty Township.

        “We grew up with such a tradition, and we've missed it,” she said. “I think everyone is looking for a Christmas tradition that has meaning. Years ago, when more people stayed in one place, they created their own traditions for generations. These days, people move around a lot. Traditions aren't has plentiful.

        “One day some of us were talking about our barn tradition. Then we thought, hey, the Niedermans have a barn. It's an unusual place for a Christmastime service, but then again it's not.”

        Rhonda Hancock, a Liberty Township resident and Lakota Christian's children's minister, said the service is aimed at families and providing children with holiday memories.

        “It gives us a chance to explain to them what it was like back in early times, when Mary had the Baby Jesus,” she said. “And, of course, it helps us make more good traditions.”

        Mrs. Niederman said she'll help her husband drag bales of hay out of the barn and clean it up for company. They won't remove the animals.

        “There's something special about a service in a barn,” she said. “It smells different, looks different and it has a different aura about it.”

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