It was a very cold week in early December. Some parishioners asked Father Ignatius if it was all right to build a Christmas crib in the car park as well as the one usually set up in church by the Altar.
The intention was to build a small wooden hut made of old wood they could pick up cheaply from the local saw mill; and then decorate it, and use the Nativity scene statues which they discovered in the store room deep in the basement under the church whilst they were cleaning it in summer.
Father Ignatius agreed, “as long as you don’t ask me to lift those heavy statues from the basement … they’re quite heavy you know. So be careful!” he said.
A few youngsters helped by the leaders of the Youth Club got together and built the wooden hut. At first it looked quite bare and unwelcoming, a little like the original manger in Bethlehem I suppose. But eventually, with loving tender care, mostly by the women involved whilst the men gave instructions or went to the pub for a drink, it looked really magnificent.
The statues were then brought up, with great difficulty, from the basement and placed in position. A local electrician volunteered his services and placed hidden lights at strategic places to make the crib glow warmly at night.
As it snowed and got bitterly cold, even for Northern England, the little wooden hut glowing in the church’s car park made a beautiful heart-warming sight for all passers-by and gave them a little hope for the New Year ahead.
Just beside St Vincent church, by the car park gate, there’s a little narrow lane leading deep into fields at the back of the church. From the street you cannot see the fields. There’s the church’s car park entrance, then the narrow lane entrance, then the entrance to the Convent nearby.
This long lane leads to a small field used by a local farmer to store his farm machinery. He leaves his tractors there, as well as several harvesting equipment and ploughs in a large shed. The field is well enclosed by a high fence and, for extra security; the farmer keeps a dog loose in the field with a small opening in the shed for it to shelter in his doghouse when it is cold and raining.
The dog is not always there; only on rare occasions when the farmer needs additional security on the site.
One morning, a few days before Christmas, the farmer called on Father Ignatius.
“You haven’t seen my dog by any chance Father?” he asked, “it’s a large shepherd dog. I keep him in the yard behind you every now and then, in his dog house in the shed.
“The area is well fenced-off so he shouldn’t have got away. But maybe he found a hole in the fence somewhere and ran off!”
The priest hadn’t seen the dog, but it could be possible that he found a way through the fence and got into the church’s gardens and car park. So he put on his coat and went out with the farmer to search the church’s back gardens first.
It had snowed all night and the snow was very thick and even everywhere since no one had been out to walk on it.
“I hope he’s OK …” said the farmer despondently, “it was very cold last night … well below zero Father. He should have stayed in his dog-house for any chance of warmth. I keep an electric fire on the wall nearby to heat the place … he would have been as warm as toast in the shed. It’s like a sauna in there even in winter!”
“Well … he’s not in the back gardens,” said the priest, “we’d better look in the church car park. Although if he went there he would have escaped in the street by now …”
The two men searched the car park and, eventually, there in the crib, sleeping in the manger just beside the statue of baby Jesus was the large shepherd dog.
“At least he had the sense to find some warmth in the lap of Jesus,” said Father Ignatius, “pity some people do not have as much sense!”