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Nativity Scene Finds New Home in Bellevue but Not Without Opposition

For forty-two years a nativity scene has been displayed at Nagel Park in Bellevue but this Christmas it will have a new home.

The Bellevue Neighborhood Association donated the nativity scene to St. John United Church of Christ which will place it on its property on Fairfield Avenue for the holidays.

"There's always been that underlying issue because Nagel Park is technically city-owned property," said Mayor Ed Riehl in an interview with The River City News. "(The neighborhood association) entered into a lease agreement where they would lease the park to display it because obviosuly, being the separation of church and state and being a religious symbol, the city is not allowed to do that."

Riehl said that the neighborhood association, which obtained the nativity from the former Bellevue Civic Association after it disbanded, is now formally registered as a 501c3 non-profit entity. The mayor explained that the organization said that by becoming a true non-profit, the association could no longer have any political or religious affiliation. "So it kind of made it difficult to display and have ownership of this religious symbol," Riehl said.

At the association's meeting in August, some of its members who also belong to St. John said that they would be interested in taking over ownership and displaying it for the community.

The issue came up at last week's city council meeting where some Bellevue residents expressed opposition to the change. A Facebook page titled "Keep the Nativity Scene in Nagel Park" was created and has 800 likes as of this writing.

Lisa Barnett, the Bellevue resident behind the Facebook page, told The Cincinnati Enquirer, “It’s a tradition. It’s been a tradition for 42 years,” Barnett said. “I always look forward to the nativity scene at the park. It always takes me back to the reason of the season. I’d like to see it back in the park.”

Shortly after the group's decision to donate the scene, Bellevue Neighborhood Association President Katie Lauer released this statement:

The Bellevue Neighborhood Association was the sole owner of the property of the nativity scene and St. John's Church is now the new owner. The BNA has considered moving the nativity scene off city property for many years and the pieces fell into place this year for a new owner and location.

The Bellevue Neighborhood Association is a non-profit organization with no religious or political affiliation. Those who routinely volunteer and regularly attend meetings have felt for some time that the nativity scene was better suited with an organization of religion.

St. John's Church will proudly display the nativity scene. St. John's is located on Fairfield Avenue where all are invited to view and enjoy it. They are building a platform to display the nativity scene and also have a parking lot available for those who are unable or choose not to walk to view it. St. John's is properly equipped with outdoor electricity to light the nativity scene and will do a great job in displaying it with glory.

Because of some disagreement with the decision about the nativity scene, recent postings on facebook are encouraging people not to join or renew their BNA memberships. This would be truly unfortunate for our neighborhoods and the city as a whole. The Bellevue Neighborhood Association has accomplished many things over the years, and dues, donations and volunteers are the only way this can continue to be possible. The BNA takes its mission seriously and has nothing but the best interests of the neighborhoods and city in mind. Our volunteers work with city staff to keep Bellevue's public spaces beautiful and blooming. Each season a variety of plants and flowers are designed, placed, and maintained throughout the city. Funding programs such as an adopt-a-block program, city tree plantings, neighborhood decorations and homeowner grants improve the beauty of the city, quality of landscaping and housing façades throughout the city. As Bellevue residents, this benefits all of us.

It is my sincere hope that you will continue to support and volunteer with the Bellevue Neighborhood Association so together we can continue the mission of neighborhood pride and sustainability

City employees helped erect the display each year and the city offered storage space to house the nativity outside of Christmas season. Riehl said that those efforts were done as a courtesy just as the city provides police protection at basketball and football games.

Another issue was finances. "It cost them about four hundred dollars a year to insure it, if something catastrophic happened to it where the whole thing would get destroyed so that it could be replaced," the mayor said. :From time to time with it being displayed, certain figures would get stolen and the deductible on the policy doesn't cover theft. There were years that one figure would get stolen and they'd have to pay the insurance and replace the figure. It was getting costly to insure."

"It's kind of sad but at the end of the day it became a legal issue for the neighborhood association and should they get sued, we know those things aren't cheap," Riehl said. "I'm sure the city would get drawn into that thing, too."

The "Keep the Nativity Scene in Nagel Park" Facebook page encourages its supporters to attend the next Bellevue Neighborhood Association meeting on October 22.

Story by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo via Facebook