A Brief History of Nativity
The Church of the Nativity was founded by the Rev. M. Huyett Sangree and his wife, Jean, in 1946 in the Town of Tonawanda. At this early stage in the life of the church, it didn’t yet have a charter, a name, or a permanent home.
The first worship service was held in The Little Chapel of the Elms in nearby Elmlawn Cemetery. It was December 1946 and, with Christmas in the air, one of the founding members suggested the name “Nativity.” It stuck!
The Church of the Nativity was officially chartered as a Congregational Church on February 2, 1947. Worship services continued to be held in The Little Chapel of the Elms until 1949 when construction was completed on Nativity’s permanent home — its present day site on Colvin Boulevard near Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda.
This was a time when many GIs were returning from World War II to new housing in the town, and the Sangrees and early members of Nativity offered them a warm welcome.
Soon there were 1,000 members, including 400 children, and space was getting tight. Construction was begun on a new, larger, sanctuary, which was completed in time for worship on Christmas Eve 1955.
Since then our life together has been marked by three main qualities. First, we are Welcoming. From the beginning we brought members from many denominational backgrounds together. In 1957 we joined the United Church of Christ, uniting with congregations from the old Evangelical and Reformed Church. More recently we voted to become Open and Affirming, publically welcoming gay and lesbian people into full membership and leadership in our church. And in a recent expansion and renovation we made our building fully accessible. Each Sunday, we declare that “No matter who you are, or where you are on your life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” And we mean it.
Second, we are Nurturing. Church school and dynamic youth programs have long been a hallmark. Fellowship groups, including the Women’s Guild, sprouted up from early days and continue to bear fruit. And worshippers remark on two qualities of our worship services: music that feeds the soul and sermons that bring God’s presence and guidance into everyday life.
Finally, we are Empowering. We offer many opportunities for leadership. We also have a variety of small groups to help members deepen their faith, discover their spiritual gifts and find creative ways to use them to do Christ’s work. In addition, people are engaged in mission including a reading program with Holmes Elementary School, delivering Meals on Wheels, volunteering at hospitals, and working on community concerns through Friends of Night People, and Ken-Ton Closet. Nativity has long addressed the issues of the day, going back to the War in Vietnam and the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements. We have also resettled 13 refugee families from around the world.
Nativity is Welcoming, Nurturing, Empowering! Over the six plus decades of our life we have been constantly growing. We are a church on the move, always seeking to deepen our faith, increase our spiritual gifts, and offer Christ’s healing love in our congregation and community.