Area churches plan Nativity re-creationsWritten by David Yonke Editor, ToledoFAVS.com | | David.Yonke@ReligionNews.com
For people who think Christmas is all about shopping, spending money and fighting traffic, two Toledo churches are offering reminders of the spiritual history of the holiday season.
Hope Lutheran Church and Westgate Chapel are both using costumed actors, elaborate staging and scenery, and a menagerie of live animals to transport visitors to the time and place of Jesus’ birth.
“It’s our gift to the community,” said Diane Barnes, one of the organizers of Hope Lutheran’s free “A Night in Bethlehem,” scheduled for 1-6 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8 at the church on the corner of Secor Road and Bancroft Street.
“The goal is to get this amazing gift of Jesus to the community, to remind them that this is the gift of the season and what the season’s about,” Barnes said.
Rob Zimmermann of Westgate Chapel cited a similar goal for bringing the sights and sounds of ancient Bethlehem to life in present-day Toledo. The free program, titled “Bethlehem Experience: Anticipate the Arrival of the King …” will be presented from 6-9 p.m. Dec. 12-14 at the church at 2500 Wilford Drive.
“For us as a church, our hope is summed up by the theme we’re going with this year: ‘Christmas Contrast.’ We want people to have an understanding of the Christmas story from a biblical standpoint as opposed to the way the world has commercialized the message,” Zimmermann said.
The last time Hope presented its Bethlehem program, in 2011, it drew about 1,500 people. The church first presented the program in 2008 and held it again in 2009 before opting to present it every other year because of the heavy demand on volunteers.
Barnes, Hope’s minister of student ministries, said 160 people are involved in the church’s two-day production.
This year the church is adding musical performances by Bowsher High School’s orchestra, Central Catholic High School’s glee club, Ottawa Hills’ choral group and a community vocal group.
The live animals — including goats, chickens and camels — are very popular with children, Barnes said. This year an adult camel will be joined by a baby camel at Hope’s little town of Bethlehem.
Live animals will also be a popular part of Westgate’s Bible scenes.
“We’ll have multiple camels, donkeys, sheep and chickens,” Zimmermann said.
Westgate first presented its interactive “Bethlehem Experience” in 2011 with the goal of creating a holiday tradition for local families. Last year about 4,000 people attended the event.
The first stop for visitors this year is an introductory video that “gets people into the spirit of what we’re doing,” Zimmermann said. About 200 volunteers are involved in the Westgate presentation, from costumed actors to production workers.
Visitors follow a path that takes them through biblical scenes leading up to Jesus’ birth, including an angel appearing to Mary; Joseph and his pregnant wife trekking to Bethlehem with a donkey; angels announcing the birth of the Savior to shepherds; baby Jesus resting in a manger; and wise men bearing gifts.
A highlight at both Hope and Westgate will be the churches’ bustling Bethlehem marketplaces, filled with shops and merchants offering everything from baked goods to children’s crafts. Westgate’s sword-making shop, where children can make their own cardboard and aluminum foil swords, has been expanded this year because of its popularity, Zimmermann said.
“‘Bethlehem Experience’ is for toddlers on up,” he said.
One change this year at Westgate is that the last three scenes — the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, the manger scene and the wise men’s visit — have been combined into a short series presented in the sanctuary.
“That’s probably the most awe-inspiring part of it,” Zimmermann said. “It’s quiet and we get a lot of remarks from people that it allows them to concentrate on the reason for Christmas.”
David Yonke is the editor and community manager of Toledo Faith & Values (ToledoFAVS.com), a website that provides in-depth, nonsectarian news coverage of religion, faith and spirituality in the Toledo area.