If You See A Donkey On King's Highway...
It must be Palm Sunday in Middletown, when local donkeys take part in a religious procession at two churches.
Bill Potter of Middletown keeps five miniature donkeys on his farm on Red Hill Road in Holmdel.
The donkeys live the good life, hanging out with the sheep and goats, munching on grass and hay, letting out the occasional hee-haw.
But come the Christian holidays they are all business. At Christmastime, Potter donkeys take up positions in Living Nativity scenes at St. John's Methodist Church in Keyport, All Saints Church in Navesink, and Dearborn Farms in Holmdel.
And on Palm Sunday, which is on March 24, they hoof it to King's Highway in Middletown, where they play a role in the re-telling of Jesus's triumphant return to Jerusalem -- first on the front lawn of Christ Episcopal Church at 10 a.m., and then onto the Middletown Reformed Church for the 10:30 a.m. service.
As the congregation clutches traditional palms, the choir sings and the white-robed clergy leads the festive procession into the church, a brave child rides upon the donkey's blanketed back to represent Jesus's trip.
A 3-foot tall 5-year old donkey called Princess recently had had the honors. But this year a new yearling called CC is making her debut. "She's cuter," said Bill Potter's daughter, Wendy Levins, who looks after the donkeys. "But she's half the size of Princess, like the size of a Great Dane." No rides this year, sorry.
Potter's miniature donkeys are sometimes called Christian donkeys because they have a cross on their back. A dorsal line of dark hair goes down the length of their back, and is crossed by a shoulder stripe at the top. Legends abound about the symbolism of the donkey that carries Christ's cross.
Like all Christians, sometimes they stray from the path. Potter recalls the time a uniformed Middletown Police Officer opened the door of the Reformed Church opened during the Palm Sunday service he joined. "He said 'There's a donkey in the middle of King's Highway.'
"I had tied her to a light post, and she managed to untie the rope and was marching down the road towards Sears," he recalled. Three police cars were on the scene. "The cops had no idea what to do with a donkey on the loose," said Potter.
Palm Sunday donkeys have been a tradition on King's Highway in Middletown for 15 years.
Christ Church Interim Rector Becky Michelfelder said "All the children of the church, young and old, enter into the spirit of the day and look forward to having a real one of God's creatures there to remind us that this was a real event."
"And that while it is the fun part of the service, it is also serious, because we know where Jesus and the donkey are headed," she said.