Muted by the blacksmith’s rhythmic pounding, the questions from the woman by the well were sometimes faint.
“Welcome to Bethlehem. Are you here to visit our market? There’s so many people in town to pay their taxes. … They’re saying there was a baby born over at the stables. I haven’t seen him — have you? “
If the visitor responded no, he or she hadn’t seen the baby, Bonnie Embrey — clad in a long black dress and veil — would gently urge them to head over that way soon, that something really special was going on.
Nearby, the egg sellers were also urging visitors to make sure they stopped by the stables to see the baby. Adam and Kelly Green, the blues and plaids of their robes and head coverings bright against the torchlight, were also quick to urge visitors to see the rest of the village’s shops.
For two nights this month, members of the congregation of First Apostolic Church in Millwood took a step back in time, portraying the familiar members of the nativity as well as other folks who would have been fixtures of village life in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.
It was the third year the church has staged a live nativity, and the second year for the adjacent “Walk through Bethlehem” portraying the village marketplace. For this year’s Dec. 14 and 15 stagings the marketplace was expanded, offering several vignettes outdoors as well as inside the church.
“One of the reasons is we want to involve the whole church,” Ron York said of adding the Bethlehem shops in the church basement of the church. He and his wife, Shayne, help organize the annual observances.
They estimate 500 people attended the two evenings’ performances in 2011, and said the crowds this year may have been a little larger.
Planning for the first year’s living nativity actually started in September, the Yorks said. They had a meeting with the congregation around Labor Day and asked if they would be interested in staging a living nativity. When the response was positive, they had a lot to do in a little time — everything from finding old barnwood to build the stables to rounding up the animals to designing and sewing costumes for the portrayers.
Shayne York said they were concerned at first that the church might have to buy materials to make those costumes, but thanks to donations from members of the congregation that wasn’t the case.
“The Lord, He, like really, really provides for us,” she said.
In 2011 they had to make more costumes for the portrayers in the shops, but this year’s set-up was much faster, Shayne York said. The congregation started putting up the stables and pens for the animals in November.
Those working outdoors took three-hour shifts, switching roles and costumes for each. During the middle shift Dec. 14, Holly and Joseph McClure were portraying Mary and Joseph, joined in the stables by a couple of lambs and Danny Parks, Briannah Pendley, Serenity York, Wanda Green and Jamie Childress portraying shepherds and angels. Outside, Doretta Burden perched on the stable’s roof, portraying an angel hovering over the manger where the baby Jesus slept.
They said they were enjoying the night’s warmer temperatures as well as getting to see people’s reactions to the nativity. The hardest part, they said, was standing virtually motionless for the hour. There Joseph McClure said he was lucky — Mary and Joseph got to sit on hay bales during their shifts.
The church’s pastor, Brother George Langdon, said the people visiting were commenting how much they enjoyed the portrayals.
“We just want folks to know the real meaning of Christmas,” he said of why the congregants stage the nativity. “Sometimes we seem to forget it.”
Patsy Green, who was portraying a worker in Bethlehem’s bakery, said staging the nativity also helps remind the members of the congregation of the reason for the holiday season.
“We’re all busy people, with jobs and families,” she said. “This is the one thing that makes us stop and reflect on the real meaning of Christmas.”