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After cows escaped its live nativity event, this North Carolina church had a not-so-silent night

You’ve heard of kids disrupting Christmas pageants. But what about cows?

SHARE After cows escaped its live nativity event, this North Carolina church had a not-so-silent night
Actors perform at a live nativity event in Lehi, Utah, in 2019.

Joe Coccimiglio and Tori Coccimiglio play Joseph and Mary with Hazel Conkling as baby Jesus at “A Babe Is Born” live Nativity at the Lehi Round-Up Rodeo Grounds in Lehi on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

All that Seaside Chapel in North Carolina wants for Christmas is a better fence for its cows.

The need for such a gift became clear earlier this month when church members and local law enforcement officers spent 16 hours chasing down two calves that escaped Seaside Chapel’s live nativity event.

The cows went missing on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 3, and weren’t spotted until around 10 a.m. the next day. The search party eventually drove them into the Cape Fear River at Carolina Beach State Park in order to make it harder for the calves to run away, according to Port City Daily.

“(Carolina Beach Police Chief Vic) Ward said the tactic ... was to surround them so they were forced to wade into the Cape Fear River and could not run. Ward was one of two officers shoulder deep in the water to pursue the livestock,” the article said.

Once the cows were in the water, police officers got ropes around their necks and led them to safety. Leaders from the police department in Carolina Beach later joked on Facebook that officers in small towns are used to dealing with unique problems.

“When you’re a police officer in a small island community, you may get some unusual calls. Such was the case yesterday,” the Facebook post said.

Ward told Port City Daily that the cow chase was odd enough to make him feel like he was in an episode of “The X Files.”

“I mean I was expecting Mulder and Scully to come out of the woods and say the cows were aliens. You never hear about this stuff,” he said.

But leaders at Seaside Chapel said they’ve learned to expect the unexpected during their annual live nativity event, which they’ve hosted since 2020.

Dana Vess, wife of the church’s lead pastor, the Rev. Jerry Vess, told Port City Daily that Seaside Chapel once lost months of work on the nativity scene due to bad weather.

“After months of volunteers building the scene for the original show two years ago, hurricane force winds destroyed it. Duke Energy sent some workers to help rebuild in a matter of days,” the article said.

Dana Vess said the church tries to stay focused on their religious mission in moments of chaos.

“We continue,” she said. “We don’t let anything stop us from sharing the meaning of Christmas.” 

Seaside Chapel’s live nativity event is a pretty extravagant production involving volunteer actors and borrowed animals, according to a second article from Port City Daily.

The story described it as “more than a stationary live nativity scene,” noting that the church aims to provide a reimagining of what life in Palestine was like when the Christmas story unfolded.

“‘Journey to Bethlehem’ is an interactive vendor marketplace, with guided tours presented to 15 people at a time. It’s a reimagining of what the village in Palestine may have looked like at the time of Jesus’ birth. There are costumed Roman soldiers and vendors of the era, peddling oils, fabrics and books, as well as a blacksmith, carpet maker, tax collector, and basket weaver,” Port City Daily reported.

The church usually ushers around 500 people through the event each weekend “Journey to Bethlehem” is open, according to the Seaside Chapel Facebook page.