Cumberland Times-News

December 8, 2013


Hancock could follow our lead on averting flap

Cumberland Times-News

— The town of Hancock finds itself embroiled in a controversy over a Nativity scene in a public park. It would do well to look at the Christmas display in Cumberland as a way to skirt the church versus state issue.

The Hancock display was organized by a group of Hancock area churches and set up at Joseph Hancock Park next to the town’s Christmas tree.

But a national organization promoting separation of church and state sent a letter of concern to the town, questioning whether the display has government sponsorship. Hancock officials, in turn, said the display is not state-sponsored  and the town did not assist or support the effort.

Several years ago, questions were raised by a few individuals in Cumberland about the propriety of City of Cumberland employees setting up a Nativity scene on the lawn of Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Washington Street. Even though the display was on church grounds, the city’s use of manpower and supplies was questioned.

That spurred a group of local  volunteers to take over the Nativity duties and expense, thus taking the city out of the picture.

Michael Allen Mudge, who heads up the Cumberland Nativity and Tree Committee, recently reported in a letter to the editor in the Times-News that the local effort has met with great success.

“Our first two years, we had some major expenses to upgrade the electric panel box, prune the huge evergreen tree, and replace all the old colored lights with new energy-efficient C9-LED lights (2,000 bulbs!). For those two years, we had $6,040 in contributions from 49 different donors, and we had $5,232.61 in expenses.

“Last season, we had a much easier and low-cost year: we received $755 in contributions from 17 different donors, 10 from Cumberland, and one each from Frostburg, Lonaconing, Rawlings, Friendsville, Ridgeley, W.Va,, and Dillsburg, Pa. We had a mere $322.89 in expenses, so we start this season with $1,239.50,” Mudge wrote.

Since Hancock’s Nativity is already being handled by a group of churches, simply moving the display to a church site or other private property should sidestep the controversy. Then, people who are of Christian faith can enjoy the display without having to worry about a political argument over church-state separation.