Little support for ‘Nativity Story’

Congregations not expected to flock to film in ‘Passion’-like numbers

So far, “The Nativity Story” is not getting a passionate response in Boulder.

New Line Cinema’s film about the Immaculate Conception, Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus premiered Sunday at the Vatican — the first film to debut there — and more than 100 churches across the country hosted screenings Monday, including one each in Denver and Colorado Springs.

The film opens nationwide, including at Boulder’s United Artists Village 4, today.

But despite the apparent hype elsewhere, and the way Boulder County congregations eagerly seized on Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004, the local reception to “The Nativity Story” seems to match the weather — chilly.

Scott Kelly, associate pastor of Cornerstone Church of Boulder, said his church is recommending parishioners see the movie, and he’s encouraging the leaders of the church’s small groups to take friends and family. But Kelly hasn’t planned a big event around it. The church considered holding a private screening, but the logistics didn’t work out, and it would have been expensive.

Kelly saw the film a month ago at a pre-screening for pastors, and said he suspects “The Nativity Story” won’t make as much money as the much-hyped “The Passion of the Christ.” Churches in Boulder and across the country organized trips by the busload to the see that film, which also was the topic of Sunday sermons and study groups.

“Obviously, a bleeding man on a cross is more controversial than a baby taking its first breath,” Kelly said.

“The Passion” became a spectacle, Kelly said, a cultural phenomenon full of controversy and gore. The story of the Nativity is easier to deal with and less controversial.

Pastor Pete Terpenning, of Community United Christian Church of Boulder, hadn’t heard much about “The Nativity Story” on Thursday, but said unlike the Passion, the Nativity story is too nice to fight over.

“‘The Passion’ was controversial, probably because it was so clearly atonement theology,” Terpenning said. “But the Nativity — no one wants to mess with that, I suppose.”

“The Passion” was visceral, but “The Nativity Story” is benign, said Jeff Davenport, director of emergent worship at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, adding that he hadn’t heard many people talking about the film.

Davenport, who earned an MFA in script and screenwriting at the University of Southern California, said he likes the idea of bringing creativity to worship, and noted that his church frequently uses movie clips during its Sunday evening services. However, Davenport said he believes many of First Presbyterian’s parishioners prefer their movies and books to be more subtle and symbolic.

“A lot of people are a little more savvy,” Davenport said. “They don’t need a story laid out for them in biblical terms.”

Since the huge box office success of “The Passion,” it’s become clear that evangelicals have a large share of the market, Davenport said, but many churches are tired of being targeted by promoters.

“A lot of people got slammed with ‘The Passion’ paraphernalia,” he said.

Cornerstone’s Kelly said he hasn’t sensed nearly as much buzz for “The Nativity” as has accompanied other “Christian” movies, despite its opening at the Vatican.

“We were getting ‘Narnia’ characters in our Happy Meals for a month before it came out,” Kelly said of last winter’s Christian-themed C.S. Lewis adaptation, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

“‘The Nativity’ doesn’t have the same marketing opportunities.”

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