It may be 2,000 years old, but the Christmas story feels fresh and alive to the members of Southminster Presbyterian Church.
Every year, hundreds of guests (or travelers) go through “Journey to Bethlehem,” the church’s live production of the nativity story. Travelers can see shepherds, angels, King Herod’s court, the innkeeper and the Christ child lying in the manger.
For members of the church, Journey to Bethlehem is a beloved kick-off to the advent season. Some cast members have been a part of the annual production since the church started it 34 years ago. Tim Thomas and Scott Giffen said that they have each been in almost every scene after years of participating in the productions.
“It begins the Christmas season; it’s something this family does and something we give to the community,” said Thomas. “It’s fun to do. You really get to know the other people in the church with this event.”
Giffen particularly enjoys watching children’s faces light up at the non-human cast, especially the sheep that stay with the shepherds. The animal cast members come on loan from the Leavenworth 4-H Club.
Over the years, the church has collected plenty of fond memories of the production. For instance, one year, a guard from King Herod’s court came down the “hill” (the staircase) and shouted, “Halt, you can’t conjugate here!” He was supposed to say “congregate.” It made for a pretty good laugh.
The very first year of Journey to Bethlehem, Pam Nitsche went through as a traveler with her infant; fast-forward to today, she and Ruth Ann Unruh (and countless others) are leading the cast of more than 100 — about a quarter of the congregation.
“It starts our advent like nothing else,” Nitsche said. “It’s not just for the travelers (guests); it is also for us and how it centers us. It is truly a gift to the community. It’s a lot of work, but it is done with a great love and affection.”
Travelers can come to the production tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. Guests wait in the sanctuary, where bell choirs and musicians perform Christmas music, for the next trip through to begin. The production takes roughly 20 minutes to complete.