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The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest Christian churches in existence and is believed to be located on the site where Jesus Christ was born.
The first church on this site is thought to have been built by Roman Emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helena in 326 AD. Whilst some of the flooring of this original church survives, the present structure of the Church of the Nativity dates to 530 AD and was built by the Emperor Justinian.
Christian pilgrims flock to the Church of the Nativity to see the silver star that marks the site on which Christ is believed to have been born. This site features as one of our recommended key places to see in Israel.
As the Catholic population of Dubuque increased, Archbishop James J. Keane saw the need to establish a new parish in September 1922. The Church of the Nativity is located on Alta Vista Street with Rev. Henry P. Rohlman as the founding pastor. Father Rohlman consulted architect Casimir Krajewski. They planned a church and school in English-Gothic style. Archbishop Keane blessed the cornerstone on July 4, 1923, and dedicated the new church on December 23. The parish has moved through three worship sites: the first was a temporary site in the old school building the second was a new church begun in 1926, and dedicated on November 20, 1927 the third is the present church begun in 1965, and dedicated in December 1967.
Nativity Parish operated an elementary school from 1924 to 2001 at which time the school became part of Holy Family Catholic Schools. The elementary school remained on site until the spring on 2005. Nativity Parish hosted the Holy Family Middle School from 2005-2006, while the new middle school was being built. The Sisters of the Visitation staffed the school from 1924 until the fall of 1989.
After Father Rohlman's appointment as bishop of Davenport, Rev. Michael L. Kerper became the second pastor of Nativity and served from July 1927, until his death in 1957. Since then many priests have served as pastors and associate pastors. At least 33 women and three men from the parish entered religious life and 21 men have been ordained priests. In the 1990s a sister parish relationship was established between Nativity and the Diocese of Bellary, India.
At the present time, Nativity Parish is involved with pastoral planning in several ways. From 2008-2010, the parish conducted a capital campaign and installed a new hybrid geothermal heating and cooling system which serves the church, religious education building and office building. Members of the parish participated in the Dubuque deanery pastoral planning process from 2009-2010. After the closing of St. Mary Parish, new members were welcomed to Nativity. In 2011, Nativity Parish began establishing a new strategic plan for the future.
Recently Nativity Parish has been celebrating their 90th anniversary. It was 90 years ago, on December 23, 1923, that the first Mass was celebrated in the first of the three church buildings (the first was part of the the so-called "Old School" (used for the first two years), the second was what is now called Upper Kerper Hall, and the third is the current church, the "New Church."). The first Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of Dubuque, James J. Keane, with the presence of the first pastor, the future Archbishop Henry P. Rohlman, as well as the ancestors of many current parishioners. One person that was present for the 90th anniversary of the dedication of the cornerstone of the church building in July had attended Mass in the first church building.
The Church of the Nativity was formed in 2006 with the amalgamation of the former St. Mary’s, Bartonville, and Grace Church Hamilton.
St. Mary’s was founded in 1878 in Bartonville Township, on land donated by William Syer. Earlier in the 1870s, the people of Bartonville had been worshiping at the Church of the Redeemer in Stoney Creek, until the Reverend Charles Whitecomb began holding services in Bartonville School and in Bartonville Methodist Church. The foundation stone was laid by local postmaster Adam Brown on June 23, 1880, and the church was completed in 1881. The first parish hall was built in 1894 and replaced in 1924-25. St. Mary’s was at first a mission of the Church of the Redeemer, and became a separate parish in 1944. In 1953, the original stone church was converted into the chancel (the part with the altar and choir), and a new nave (the longer portion of the building with the pews) was added to run east-west. The new church building was consecrated by Bishop W. W. Bagnall on March 25, 1954. In 1967 the final addition was built to include a kitchen, meeting spaces, choir and office facilities, and the chapel.
Grace Church, Hamilton, was founded by the Reverend Joseph Carson in 1919 to serve the community bounded by Kenilworth to Gage and Lawrence to Cannon. The original church was a small stucco building. In 1929 the nave and the basement were added, and the chancel was built in 1955. In 1968 the Christian Education Building (Sunday school, office and church parlor) replaced the stucco building and was annexed to the main church. The church interior held a stunning chancel, chapel, nave, and sixteen beautiful stained glass windows.
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By Dennis Sadowski &bull Catholic News Service &bull Posted February 10, 2014
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) –- The ancient Byzantine-style Church of the Nativity marks the birthplace of Christ and is the Holy Land’s oldest church that remains in use for regular worship and liturgy.
Dating to 326, the church is one of the most revered sites in the Holy Land, attracting throngs of tourists eager to step foot into the cave where Mary gave birth.
Located on Manger Square, five miles south of Jerusalem, the church is administered by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox clergy under an age-old agreement that finds each responsible for maintaining certain sections — from lighting specific ornate silver lamps to maintaining certain pillars and mosaics — in precise ritualistic actions.
The original church, dedicated in 339, was built under the direction of St. Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine who legalized Christianity. Her goal was to establish the church over the cave where Jesus was born, as identified in the year 160 by St. Justin Martyr.
While the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke do not mention a cave as the birthplace of Christ, historians and biblical experts say Justin Martyr’s premise is well founded because many houses in the area were built in front of a cave, which would have been used for stabling and storage. That would explain the availability of the manger in which the infant Jesus slept.
The original church, with its octagonal floor plan, was placed directly above the cave. A 13-foot wide hole surrounded by a railing was part of the design so that pilgrims could peer into the cave.
The original church was demolished and rebuilt around 530 by Justinian the Great, Byzantine emperor from 527 to 565, as part of his drive to recover the empire’s greatness. Portions of the original mosaic floor depicting birds and flowers were preserved and can be viewed through trap doors in the church’s main floor.
A visitor lights a candle in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Dating to 326, the church is one of the most revered sites in the Holy Land. (CNS photo/Reuters)
Today, visitors enter the church through the Door of Humility, a small rectangular entrance that dates to the Ottoman period. The doorway was minimized to prevent Ottoman raiders from entering on horseback and pillaging the church. A closer look reveals the massive lintel above the arch, indicating the entrance’s original much taller and wider size.
Entering the wide nave, visitors are taken back in time 15 centuries. The nave is supported by 44 columns, arranged in four rows. Thirty of the columns are embellished with Crusader paintings of saints, Mary and the Christ Child. Poor lighting and age, however, make them difficult to decipher. The columns themselves are made of pink limestone. Most are reused from the original fourth-century church.
Fragments of 12th-century mosaics created by artist Basilius Pictor still adorn portions of the walls high above the columns. Records from 1628 indicate each side once had three sections: the lowest depicting Jesus’ ancestors, the middle containing decrees of provincial and ecumenical councils and the highest showing angels.
Time and the elements have taken their toll on the aged artwork, which are exposed to the extremes of temperature and rain that seeps through the roof, parts of which date to the 15th century. While the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox clergy acknowledge repairs are needed, they have been unable to reach an agreement about how to go about the work.
The church’s main focal point, the Grotto of the Nativity, is reached by a narrow well-worn stone stairway to the right of the main altar. The oval-shaped grotto is quite small and is often filled with pilgrims straining to squeeze inside.
Jesus’ birthplace is commemorated with a 14-point star embedded into the marble floor in 1717 under the Altar of the Nativity, which is maintained by the Greek Orthodox. The Latin inscription in the star reads: “Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born.”
The star itself is full of symbolism. Its 14 points stem from the three segments of Jewish history, each composed of 14 generations for a total of 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. Further, the star is said to represent the 14 Stations of the Cross recounting Jesus’ path to crucifixion and burial.
Much of the grotto’s surroundings date only to 1869, when a fire destroyed its contents but spared the church only the bronze gates at the north and south entrances date from Justinian’s time.
Nearby is the Chapel of the Manger. Owned by the Roman Catholics, it marks where Jesus slept as a newborn. Bits and pieces of 12th-century mosaics still can be seen on the walls around the chapel.
Connected to the Church of the Nativity and reachable through a door in the north apse is the Church of St. Catherine, built by the Franciscans in 1888. It houses several grottos that can be reached on the right side of the nave. Grottos below are dedicated to the Holy Innocents, St. Joseph and St. Jerome.
The space was used by Christians as burial places as early as the first century. St. Jerome and his follower St. Paula are buried there.
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Is the hole in the floor, surrounded by the 14 point star, actually a hole in the roof of the cave, through which people can look to see the place where Jesus was born? I thought I saw that on EWTN years ago, but have been unable to find it recently. Thanks.
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The Church of the Nativity Throughout History
The first few times I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, back in the 1970s, there always seemed to be puddles on the floor. This was a mystery to me until I learned some of the church’s history.
It seems that during the time of the Crusades, the cedar roof of the church was badly in need of repair. It was in poor condition in the 13 th and 14 th centuries. It was finally replaced in 1480, with lead supplied by England, replacing the cedar.
Fast forward to the 17 th century. The Ottoman Turks were threatening to overrun all of Christian Europe. In 1683, a vast Turkish army that might have been as large as half a million men, moved across Hungary and threatened Vienna, Austria.
The movement of so many men was slow though so the defenders of the city completed preparations to hold off the Turks. Besides, the Turks didn’t bring their heaviest artillery. The Viennese fought bravely and the Turks quickly began to run out of ammunition.
Then someone among the Turks remembered the lead on the roof of the Church of the Nativity. Kara Mustafa, the leader of the Turks, sent soldiers back to Bethlehem where they stripped the roof of its lead and rushed it to Vienna.
While they were doing that though, an army led by King Jan Sobieski of Poland and Prince Charles of Lorraine arrived in Vienna and defeated the Turks. Sobieski sent a message to Pope Innocent XI that imitated Julius Caesar’s “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Sobieski’s message said, “I came, I saw, God conquered.”
It was a momentous victory for the Christian forces driving the Turks out of Europe. However, the damage had been done to the roof of the Church of the Nativity. For about three centuries, whenever it rained, large puddles formed on the floor. It wasn’t until fairly recent years that the Israeli government fixed the roof when the various Christian churches couldn’t decide whose responsibility it was to do so.
This was not the only time that the Church of the Nativity played a part in a war. In 1846, the silver star that shows where Christ was born was stolen. The Church of the Nativity was then under the control of the Ottoman Empire, but in 1852, Napoleon III of France forced the Ottomans to recognize France as the “sovereign authority” in the Holy Land.
The Sultan of Turkey replaced the silver star, but with a Latin inscription. This angered the Russian Empire because of various treaties, and it mobilized an army. The Ottomans quickly reversed their decision and made the Greeks the sovereign authority over the churches in the Holy Land.
The result was the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856 with the Russian Empire on one side and an alliance of the French, British and the Ottoman Empire on the other. The conduct of the war is way beyond the scope of this short article, but it ended with the defeat of Russia greatly diminishing the naval threat it posed to the Ottoman Empire.
Since the Church of the Nativity is the oldest, continuously operating church in the Middle East, it’s not surprising that it has been involved in numerous controversies. It was built between 327 and 333 by Emperor Constantine and his mother, Helena. It was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian in 565.
When the Persians took over the Holy Land in 614 and destroyed all the other Christian churches, they spared the Church of the Nativity. Legend is that the Persian commander, Shahrbaraz, saw the mosaic of the three Magi wearing Persian clothing and commanded that the church be spared.
The church has even been involved in violence in the 21 st century. In 2002, 50 armed Palestinians who were wanted by the Israelis tried to escape by locking themselves in the church. Some 200 monks and other Palestinians who supported them arrived at the site and were taken as hostages.
The Israelis didn’t try to break into the church, but did prevent the entry of food until the gunmen surrendered. The siege lasted for 39 days. Eventually, after lengthy negotiations, the gunmen were exiled to Gaza, Spain and Italy.
CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY
The Church of the Nativity stands on the traditional site of the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and is the second holiest site in Christendom after the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The current structure dates in part to the 6th century AD and is one of the oldest Christian churches still in use in the Holy Land. The Church of the Nativity is part of a complex of religious buildings, which includes the neighboring St. Catherine’s Church, located at the eastern end of Manger Square. Like the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Nativity is overseen by several major Christian denominations in a complex arrangement that dates back to Ottoman times. In years when travel to Bethlehem is less arduous, it is one of the most popular places in the world for Christmastime pilgrimages.
Bethlehem was an important Jewish site long before the birth of Christ. Its first major appearance on the Biblical stage occurred sometime around the 19th century BC, when Jacob’s wife Rachel died here while giving birth to his twelfth son, Benjamin. Bethlehem would later become the ancestral home of King David and his house, from which Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, were descended. During the reign of Caesar Augustus, sometime around the year 4 BC, Mary and Joseph were required to travel to Bethlehem in order to register for the imperial census. What followed is probably the single most popular narrative in the Bible and one of the most famous events in world history.
While the story of the birth of Jesus is engraved in the hearts and minds of Christians around the world, the subsequent history of the site of the nativity is perhaps less well known. There is no way today to tell with any certainty exactly where the famous inn and manger once stood, though based on certain archaeological evidence the likely location can probably be narrowed down to a few dozen acres. Early Christians identified the site in the years following Jesus’ life. Sometime around the late 1st or early 2nd century AD, the Romans erected a pagan temple on the site in an effort to discourage Christian pilgrims. This not only failed to deter the Christians from secretly visiting, it inadvertently kept the place well marked. When Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, arrived in the Holy Land in the 4th century looking for holy places upon which to construct shrines, the local Christians were able to show here exactly where to build.
Church of the Nativity (wikipedia.com)
This first church survived until 529 AD when it was destroyed in the Samaritan Revolt. It was replaced by a new church based on the original plans and has remained standing ever since, despite a steady stream of foreign conquests. Although the Church of the Nativity remained in Muslim hands from 1187 onward, Christians were generally allowed to continue to visit the shrine, usually in exchange for monetary tribute. Starting around 1347, the shrine was held in trust by the Franciscan order. However, ever since the Orthodox Church was allowed to return to the area in the 16th century, Catholic and Orthodox partisans have bickered over the guardianship of the site. The Church of the Nativity is currently in the joint custody of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and Armenian Apostolic Church, although access is universally permitted to all Christians.
For the better part of the last century, Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity have been caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The British took over the city in 1917, and Bethlehem, which had virtually no Jewish population, was included with the Palestinian territories when the United Nations attempted to divide the area. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Bethlehem was occupied by Israeli forces, and was not returned to Palestinian control until 1995. During this period, Christian pilgrims began flocking back to the Church of the Nativity. Since the return of Bethlehem to Palestinian control, the number of Christian pilgrims to the city has fallen off somewhat due to occasional outbursts of violence in the area. Just a few years ago, the Church of the Nativity was the site of a siege between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian insurgents holed up inside. This has not stopped determined and enthusiastic pilgrims, and the local popularion is eager to accommodate Christian tourists.
The Church of the Nativity consists of the main church structure above and the grottoes below, as well as the adjoining St. Catherine’s Church. The current structure was completed in the mid-6th century. Portions of Constantine’s original building were incorporated into the later church, and can be glimpsed in places. The main church is entered through the Door of Humility, so called because of its small size. The interior consists mostly of the original Byzantine decorations, with many embellishments added later, including an oak ceiling donated by King Edward IV of England. A decorative mosaic of the Three Wise Men is one of the shrine’s most famous pieces, and legend has it that this decoration saved the Church from demolition at the hands of Persian conquerors.
The adjoining St. Catherine’s Church was built by the Franciscan Order during their tenure. It later became the only Nativity site accessible to Catholics after the Orthodox Church took over management of the main shrine. Among the highlights of St. Catherine’s is the Chapel of the Innocents, which was built over the site of a mass grave of children that were slaughtered during the days of Herod. The tombs of a number of other saints also lie within St. Catherine’s, including that of St. Jerome. The main attraction is the Grotto of the Nativity beneath the Church. Inside, a fourteen-pointed star, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem and the Stations of the Cross, marks the place where Jesus was born. A Latin inscription reads ‘Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary’. Fifteen lamps, gifts of various Christian churches, illuminate the sanctuary. A short underground corridor connects the Grotto to the Chapel of the Innocents beneath St. Catherine’s.
The Church of the Nativity stands in the heart of Bethlehem, just a few short miles south of Jerusalem. Visiting the Church of the Nativity and Bethlehem’s other sacred sites has been subject to restrictions in recent years due to ongoing tension in the region and security issues. That said, the greatest difficulties for visiting Christians are generally long waits at security checkpoints. All visitors should plan ahead and be prepared for delays. The Church of the Nativity is open every day in summer from 6:30am-7:30pm and Winter from 5:30am-5:00pm (closed every day between noon and 2:00pm and Sunday mornings). There is no cost of admission. Web: http://travelpalestine.ps/destinations/bethlehem (official tourism website of Palestine)
Bethlehem was an incredibly important location in Israel’s early history. In addition to the Church of the Nativity, there are numerous Old Testament sites scattered throughout Bethlehem, as well as a number of other places of Christian interest. Just east of the Church is the Milk Grotto Chapel, traditionally held to be the place where Mary suckled Jesus just before the Holy Family departed for Egypt. Further east just outside of Bethlehem is the Shepherd’s Field, where the angels first proclaimed Christ’s birth. North of the town is the incredibly ancient Tomb of Rachel, the second wife of Jacob and one of the world’s oldest verifiable Biblical tombs.
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Nativity, a theme in Christian art depicting the newborn Jesus with the Virgin Mary and other figures, following descriptions of Christ’s birth in the Gospels and Apocrypha. An old and popular subject with a complicated iconography, the Nativity was first represented in the 4th century, carved on Early Christian Roman sarcophagi, and was later included with other scenes from Christ’s life in monumental decoration of Early Christian basilicas. It was a very important subject for Early Christian art from the 5th century because it emphasized the reality of the Incarnation of Christ and the validity of the Virgin’s newly established (431) title of Theotokos (Greek: “God-Bearer”). The Early Christian version of the Nativity shows the Virgin seated, to emphasize that the birth was painless, and the Child, in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. The two, usually depicted with an ox and an ass, are under the roof of a barnlike stable. Usually one or two shepherds, who symbolize the revelation of Christ to the Jews, and often also the Magi—Wise Men from the East who symbolize his revelation to the Gentiles—appear in the scene.
By the 6th century another version of the Nativity had appeared, in Syria. It became universal in the East throughout the Middle Ages and in Italy until the late 14th century. It differs from the earlier version, which was retained with some modifications in northwestern Europe, mainly in that it shows the Virgin lying on a mattress, thus ignoring the concept of the painless birth. The Child is again in swaddling clothes in a manger, and the ox and ass are retained, but the stable is located not in a barn but in a cave, as was the custom in Palestine. Angels usually hover above the cave, and St. Joseph sits outside it. The Magi and the shepherds are often present. The announcement of the miraculous birth to the shepherds by an angel and the journey of the Magi may be depicted simultaneously in the background. Another simultaneous representation—the bathing of the Child by two midwives in the foreground—became standard in Eastern Nativities. It probably derives from Classical scenes of the birth of the god Dionysus and is a prefiguration of Christ’s baptism. As the emblem of a major feast day, this version of the Nativity figured prominently, usually in its most complicated form, in the liturgical iconography of Byzantine church decoration.
In the late 14th century an abrupt transformation of the iconography of the Nativity occurred throughout western Europe, including Italy, and a second major version came into being. This was essentially an adoration the most important change is that the Virgin is depicted no longer in the aftermath of childbirth but kneeling before the Child, who is now nude and luminous and lies not in a manger but on the ground on a pile of straw or a fold of the Virgin’s mantle. Often Joseph, too, kneels in adoration. Most of the other details, except the ox and ass, are omitted, especially in earlier works. This version, which seems to have spread from Italy, follows in detail—and in fact almost certainly originates with—an account of a vision by St. Bridget of Sweden, an influential 14th-century mystic. Universally adopted in western Europe by the 15th century, this version is widely depicted in altarpieces and other devotional works.
In the Renaissance, angels reappeared, and the scene was often combined with the adoration of the shepherds, which had recently developed as a separate theme. The midwives were still included occasionally. In the 16th century the Council of Trent outlawed the midwives, the ox and ass, and the bathing of Christ as ignoble, apocryphal, and theologically unsound (the bathing of the Child is inconsistent with the doctrine of a pure and supernatural birth).
In the 17th century a more prosaic representation reappeared, with the Virgin again reclining and holding the Child. After the 17th century, despite the decline of Christian religious art in general, the Nativity remained an important theme in the popular arts. See also crèche.
Church of the Nativity - History
Church of the Nativity
Nativity Church Office
315 Prospect St.
Midland Park, NJ 07432
Office email: [email protected]
Religious Education Office
(201) 447-1776, or email here.
Church Office Hours
Monday thru Thursday: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm
Fridays: 9:30am to 12:30pm
Lunch 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Monday – Saturday 12:10 pm, in the Chapel (in Church due to COVID)
Rosary Follows Mass
Chapel Open Monday – Friday 8:00 – 3:00 pm (Not Open due to COVID)
12:10 pm, in the Chapel (in Church due to COVID)
5:00 pm (Confessions at 4:15pm in Church )
8:00 am, 10:15 & 12:00 pm in the Church
Saturdays 4:15 pm in the Church
Or by appointment
Each Friday of the month, 11:00 am
in the Chapel (in Church due to COVID)
Following 12:10pm weekday Mass in the Chapel (in Church due to COVID)
Mondays 8:00 pm in the Chapel (in Church due to COVID)
A Brief History of Nativity
In 1881, Greenwood was a small, unimpressive collection of river wharves, saloons, general stores, and a handful of frame houses. The levee systems that would turn the Mississippi Delta into a cotton-growing powerhouse had not yet been completed. There was little to attract new families willing to brave scorching summers, massive mosquitoes, and the network of swamps and bayous stretching from this Leflore County seat to the Carroll County hills.
Without enough individuals to support separate denominational buildings, Greenwood worshipers of the 1880s met in a common center, designated as Union Church and located where the existing Ahavath Rayim Synagogue stands on East Market. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians took turns worshiping in Union Church, and each would eventually break away to start their own building programs. In May of 1881, four Episcopal families asked The Reverend William P. Browne of Canton to travel north and meet with them to discuss a Greenwood parish. Mr. and Mrs. Littleton Upshur, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Henderson, Mr. and Mrs. Gideon Montjoy and Dr. and Mrs. J.H. Lucas spent the evening of May 24, 1881, discussing that possibility with Reverend Browne, and plans were laid for a new congregation, to be known as the Church of the Nativity.
The most pressing need for this new parish was a suitable church building, and Greenwood had nothing to offer. Littleton Upshur donated land a few blocks south of the Yazoo River on Main Street (the current site of Fire Station #1), and Gid Montjoy began delivering lumber from his property. The little group’s groundbreaking was arranged in October of 1882, and by the following March, the new church was complete. Thirteen communicants were on the rolls when the Church of the Nativity was admitted into union with the Diocese of Mississippi in April 1883.
Those thirteen souls had a building but struggled to find a full-time rector in this isolated corner of Mississippi. It wasn’t until 1889 that the Reverend Cecil P. Wilson agreed to move to Greenwood, but his tenure was short-lived, lasting only one year. He was followed by the Reverend Jean B.C. Beaubieu and the Reverend George L. Neide. By 1895, the congregation had grown to include 50 members, and the small Main Street church was increasingly crowded. Nativity’s Lay Reader-in-Charge, Charles Wheat Hinton, arrived in 1899 and began campaigning for a new and larger building. While he was away at General Seminary in New York City, Dr. J.H. Lucas spearheaded the drive for a new structure and an effort to maintain the active congregation, which had dwindled to thirty-two by the turn of the 20th century.
When Reverend Hinton returned from New York, building plans picked up speed. Parishioner J.S. McDonald owned the lot at the southwest corner of Church and Howard Street, a prime piece of property in a town that was now the fastest growing community in Mississippi. He had deeded the lot to Nativity in 1896 with the stipulation that “a suitable brick church…not to cost less than $4000” be built on the site. The land was lost to tax default in 1898 and reclaimed by founding member Alex Henderson for $69.99.
It would be 1902 before the ground was finally broken for the new church. The existing rectory was sold for $1750 to generate the initial funds, and J.E. Barnes and Company of Greenville was hired to begin construction. The Diocese of Mississippi purchased the deed from Mr. Henderson and then deeded it back to the parish on June 21, 1902. As was the custom in those days, the entire building was completed in a matter of months, and the first service was held on August 3, 1902, led by the Reverend C.W. Hinton and the Reverend W.C. Whitaker of Jackson. The Greenwood newspaper reported that “Everybody enjoyed these services and are profuse in complimenting the appearance of the new church building and its splendid arrangement.” Oddly enough, the cornerstone, still in place today by the bell tower, was not inserted until the following day.
Two of the Gothic stained-glass windows of the old Main Street church were removed and installed in the new Howard Street sanctuary. The Jewish congregation paid $550 for the Main Street property and worshiped there until their Market Street synagogue was completed in the 1920s.
In 1912, a two-story rectory was completed behind the sanctuary, facing Church Street during Greenwood’s boom years. It would serve the church rectors until a North Greenwood rectory was completed in 1956, leading to the old house’s demolition for a new educational and office wing. In 1926, the original tower on the south side of the sanctuary was demolished. The Rose Community Building was erected in memory of Bessie Rose, wife of the Reverend Lysander Rose. By then, Nativity had grown to 300 communicants and was one of Greenwood’s largest and most active churches.