An article in Eternity magazine about some churches in Geelong carrying out a community ‘Nativity Search’ project was the inspiration for Dongara Uniting Church to develop and present ‘A Great Search For the Wise Guys’ in our community during Advent 2015. Planned for children and families, the event included the making and ‘hiding’ around town of knitted wise men figures, a nativity photo booth where children and families could dress up as characters from the story and take photographs, and a free film at our church ‘theatre’, in December.
In June and July 2015 local knitters were recruited to make individual ‘Wise Guys’ using patterns downloaded from the internet. There was a good degree of enthusiasm from church and non-church folk for this part of the project. By the end of September we had 26 Wise Guys assembled and ready for the next stage of the plan. By this time, a variety of dress-up costumes had also been collected and constructed by our keen wardrobe mistress Margaret Bromfield. These were for people to use in the nativity photo booth during December when the Great Search was in full swing.
In October The Great Search was promoted through the local newspaper The Dongara Rag, and church bulletins as a coming event. Posters heralding The Great Search were distributed around town. Businesses and community organisations were invited individually to host a Wise Guy during the Advent period. We had a very positive response from these people who entered into the project with good humour, imagination and interest. On the last weekend of November, the Wise Guys were delivered to their host sites, and Wise Guys Passports were printed, in which searchers could register their discovery of a Wise Guy in situ. Businesses and groups were happy to use their stamps in the Wise Guys Passports to register these finds .
So, from the end of November to Christmas Day, Dongara was ‘visited’ by 26 Wise Guys. During those weeks, children who had a Wise Guys Passport went on the hunt to find each Wise Guy and document the location. A stamp was placed in their passport by the host business each time a Wise Guy was spotted.
Interestingly, the Wise Guys had a habit of moving around in their host sites – sometimes on a shelf near the door, sometimes amongst other knitted toys and beanies on display, even next to Santa in one shop. Many took up prime positions in shop windows on the street. One went to the local activity park and one attended the local market days with his hosts from the Silverdale Olive Orchard. Some were given special names by their hosts, and one had a particularly good disguise pretending to be a bottle of cordial alongside others on the wall of the café.
On the weekends, children and parents involved in The Great Search came to the Wise Guys Photo Booth at the Uniting Church to dress up in costume as characters from the Nativity Story, alongside camels, donkeys and some sheep, as well as being next to the baby Jesus in the manger. The parents took lots of great photos. Most tried out several costume changes to get full value from the activity.
Finally, those searchers who had a significant number of stamps in their passports brought their families along to a free screening of the film The Christmas Candle starring Susan Boyle. This was shown at the Uniting Church Flicks At Your Bricks ‘theatre’ Hall on 21 and 22 December. It was really good to enjoy this movie again and appreciate the valuable insights about love, compassion, and sharing skills and gifts as well as the magical blessing of the candle itself.
One of the more intriguing stories came from a Wise Guy whose host site was badly affected by a fire in the kitchen of the café where he was residing. It was feared he may not have made it through this trauma. The project team members visited the site, they saw chaos and a jumble of damaged items. The workers clearing the rubbish allowed them to search through boxes of discarded material, and there, at the bottom of a carton, untouched except for some smoke-absorption, was the Wise Guy! This one was welcomed back and the story unfolded, that such a small and vulnerable item had been saved somehow from destruction. This Wise Guy occupies a special place among the collection.
All the Wise Guys were then gathered at the Uniting Church in time for Christmas –they were seen at the church on Sunday 20 December as well as at the Christmas Eve Carols on 24 December. They lingered on to greet folks on 27 December and 3 January, when the full story was told of their journey and the homage they gave to the Light they discovered by following that wonderful star. They left town ‘by another path’ to return to their own country. We hope they will return for another visit and bring delight to this town… maybe in time for Christmas 2016…
This venture by the Dongara Uniting Church Wise Guys Team resulted in the generation of a good sense of community in the town, with parents commenting how great it is to see something of the original Christmas story being part of the more public celebrations in the town. We enjoyed the enthused participation of all those who joined in this adventure – those who knitted the figures, those who hosted the Wise Guys, and places which made the passports available for pickup; those who took the time to go searching, the parents who engaged in the story and spent time with their children on the search and in the photo fun. We all enjoyed it as a novel approach to sharing part of the Greatest Story ever told.