When Bubba's owner, Dr. Jim Lavender, walked up to the cage, the tawny 180-pound cat rolled over on his back for a tummy rub.Bubba is among the approximately 20 animals appearing in the Living Nativity pageant this weekend at Discovery United Methodist Church, where Lavender is senior pastor.
The pageant, which began last night, will be presented at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. today and tomorrow.
Most pageants don't have lions and tigers, but Lavender
, who had a brief stint in entertainment before entering the ministry, is federally and state-licensed and insured by Lloyd's of London
to exhibit exotic animals.
Animals for the Live Nativity were moved from their home on a Goochland County farm to the church Thursday evening.Some members of the congregation bring their family pets to add to the four-legged participants.
Yesterday morning, Bubba
, tigers Prince and Princess, Jill the donkey, Joshua the camel and too many sheep and goats to name, waited for breakfast outside the church at Gayton and Lauderdale roads in western Henrico County.When not on stage, the nativity animals hang out in stalls or cages near the church's stage entrance.
"Teeth on one side and hoofs on the other," said Lavender
, indicating the specially constructed area at the base of the church's steeple.
The area is enclosed on three sides with a high, padlocked fence on the fourth.The four stalls have roofs.This breaks the wind but allows for free-flowing air.The exotic animals stay in cages that also are covered on three sides.The animals are "never, ever tethered," Lavender
said."A tethered animal can't get away from other animals or people."
The stall floor is asphalt, heavily covered with hay bedding and shavings.Church volunteers help look after the animals.Someone is with them day and night, Lavender