Nativity scenes are common at Christmas, sometimes found partially obscured amid more jarring secular displays and symbols of the holiday season.

But for decades, the Nativity scene - with the infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi and a chorus of angels - has taken on a different dimension for members of one Brownwood church.

This Nativity features live actors, and often live animals.

"First Christian Church has been doing a live Nativity for at least 39 years," Starla Tedford said this week, after the congregation renewed the tradition with a total of four performances on the evenings of Dec. 17 and 18.

Tedford ought to know the history well.

"I did this when I was a youth in the church," she said.

Tedford said she was among the supporting cast when she was involved in the Nativity scene as a youth. This year, however, her daughter Kali Tedford portrayed Mary. Kimberly Boswell, dressed as a man and wearing a theatrical beard, portrayed Joseph.

Tedford, who said she has been helping with the live Nativity throughout the years, can recall only one time when the weather was so brutal that church members decided to cancel it.

The program started out as a production of the church youth, but Tedford said as the average age of the congregation has matured, it's become a project that the entire membership embraces.

"Sometimes, we're able to have live animals in the scene," Tedford said, as the church had last weekend. "At one time we had a lot of members who had livestock we could use, but now we sometimes have to ask friends to help with that. We've not always had them."

The Nativity, staged in the yard of the church facing Coggin Avenue, features a 25-minute audio in which the narrator reads the Christmas story from Scripture. A cast of more than a dozen dramatize the reading, taking their places in the stable. The shepherds, wise men and angels are all gathered around by the time the program ends.

Then, those attending are invited inside for warm beverages and to reflect on the Christmas message they've just seen and heard come alive.