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Rehoboth officials say no to nativity scene

St. Edmond parishioners say city OK’d Bandstand site
December 7, 2018

Story Location:
The Bandstand
Rehoboth  Delaware  19971
United States

St. Edmond Catholic Church parishioners are calling out Rehoboth officials for allowing the installation of a well-known nativity scene at the Bandstand and then, less than 48 hours later, forcing them to take it down.

“We have a Christmas tree there, why can’t we have a creche up?” said St. Edmond parishioner Patty Derrick during an interview Dec. 6.

Derrick said she and the Rev. William Cocco of St. Edmond approached Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns and City Manager Sharon Lynn during the Dec.2 Community Unity Dinner about placing the nativity scene at the Bandstand. She said Kuhns said he didn’t think it would be a problem and, she said, Lynn said the church could put it up as long as the city’s other non-Christian groups were contacted to see if they would like to be part of the display.

Derrick said Seaside Jewish Community Center, Faith United Methodist Church and Lewes Rehoboth Association of Churches were contacted. She said she was able to speak only with the Rev. Marjorie Bellmonte-Burns, pastor of Faith United, about the nativity scene, noting St. Edmond’s had done what the city asked for.

Derrick said when they approached city staff Dec. 3 about to get keys to the Kiwanis Club on Kent Street where the figurines were being stored, and “they were given the keys without hesitation.”

Derrick said the nativity scene was installed Dec. 4.

This nativity scene has a long history in Rehoboth Beach. For decades, the Kiwanis Club of Rehoboth Beach, later renamed Kiwanis Club of Coastal Delaware, annually installed the foam figurines on Rehoboth Avenue near the Boardwalk. In the late 2000s, during streetscape construction, the nativity moved to the front lawn of M&T Bank, also on Rehoboth Avenue. M&T Bank branch manager Darren Tatum-Pooly said he only recently took over at the bank and didn’t know anything about the nativity scene.

A representative of the local Kiwanis Club could not be reached, but the club’s most recent Facebook posts are from 2016 – showing installation of the creche at M&T Bank. Messages seeking comment from the club could not be returned.

It didn’t go unnoticed that the nativity scene wasn’t up at all this year until this past week.

A letter to the editor in the Friday, Nov. 30, issue of the Cape Gazette, from Rehoboth’s Linda Figliozzi, questioned where the nativity scene was. She suggested it could be placed at – the Boardwalk, the pavilion at the Bandstand or at the traffic circle heading into town.

Less than a week later, it appeared at the Bandstand, next to the city’s Veterans Memorial.

In an email Dec. 3, Kuhns said he had seen Filiozzi’s letter. This has been an issue that a few people have spoken about over the last year or so, he said.

“The nativity scene is not city property and I have no idea what has happened to it,” he said. “From what I can tell, it is privately owned and whomever owns it may have moved it to storage the last time it was displayed and chosen not to seek space.”

During a conversation at city hall Dec. 5, both Lynn and Kuhns looked surprised to hear it had been installed.

“News to me,” he said.

Lynn said she had no idea and that whoever did it should have gotten permission from the city first.

Kuhns said moving forward he would let city staff deal with the issue.

Lynn said Cocco advised her that he and his staff placed the creche on city property on Tuesday. She said she advised him he did not have permission to do so and instructed him to remove it immediately.

Lynn said Cocco would not be able to get people together to remove the creche until Thursday morning, which, she said, was acceptable.

Lynn said she contacted Cocco because she had previously spoken to him very briefly about his concern that there was no nativity scene on display in Rehoboth.

“I specifically told him that the city would not endorse any one religion,” she said in an email Dec. 6.

Lynn said the placement of the creche is concerning.

“It would be appropriate to have had permission, which I would have denied, unless all religious communities are represented,” Lynn said in email Dec. 5. “Perhaps a group can be organized for next year and we can have an appropriate community gathering that is inclusive of all so that the City of Rehoboth Beach local government does not appear to endorse one particular religion.”

Derrick said the parishioners from St. Edmond tried to do contact other non-Christian groups as the city requested.

“This is unfair,” Derrick said. “This is un-Christian. They could have given us at least 24 to 48 hours. Where is the community unity spirit?”