Bustling 'Bethlehem' re-created Church sets scene for Jesus' birth

December 20, 1992|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

The wise men arrived in that town where the parents came to be counted, children played in the streets, merchants displayed their items and Herod's spy wandered the streets hoping to discover the resting place of a special baby boy.

They had all come -- to the Meadow Branch Church of the Brethren.

"Many places have a living nativity scene, but we wanted to show what was really going on at the time when Jesus was born," said the Rev. J. Melvin Fike of his congregation's "Christmas in Bethlehem" experience.

"We wanted to get away from the commercial aspects of the holiday to let people know that Jesus is the reason for the season."

The church congregation, under the coordination of Mr. Fike's wife, Lisa, has worked for nearly six months to plan and organize the event, which puts visitors right in the middle of one of the biggest events in Christian theology.

Bethlehem was just an ordinary city that day, with merchants still trying to make a day's wages and beggars asking help from the citizens.

Church members transformed the basement of their church into an outdoor "village" which features many aspects of city life, including bakers, winemakers and dried fruit and nut merchants who allow visitors to sample their goods.

Vendors, like the "bird man" who tried to sell the pigeons and doves, peddle their wares to passers-by.

Several crafts people -- basket weavers, potters and tin smiths -- demonstrate their skills, while the rope-makers, who fashion belts, and the carpenters, who make dreidels, give away examples of their work.

"It's important for us to keep things as accurate as possible here," said Mrs. Fike, who coordinated the event as part of her training to became a minister in the Church of the Brethren. "The kids should see that the people weren't wearing tennis shoes in Bethlehem."

But some accuracies were intentionally avoided.

"I wanted to put sand down all over the floor, but they wouldn't allow it," said Richard Burnham, one of the set coordinators.

While top billing for the event actually goes to a small plastic doll portraying Jesus, Mr. Burnham and his wife, Chellie, from Westminster, are proud -- and a little awe-struck -- to portray the child's parents, Mary and Joseph of Nazareth.

"It's quite an honor," said Mrs. Burnham. "It's exciting to see all of this come together after we planned so hard for all of it."

From the census-taker that counts people as they enter the "village" to the innkeeper and his wife who bemoan the fate of the "pregnant lady" who could not be housed under their roof, visitors are shown a realistic view of Bethlehem.

The miracle of Christ's birth is the central scene of the holiday, and the congregation seemingly has spared little to make its depiction as realistic as possible.

In the hay-strewn altar area of the sanctuary, Mary and Joseph sit by the wooden cradle containing the baby. The scene is bathed in blue light to depict night.

Shepherds stand around the family, while white-clad angels proclaim the Savior's birth.

Above the scene is a bright, shining star.

"This was all done with a lot of creativity and enthusiasm," said Mrs. Burnham. "But more importantly, it was done to stress what the holiday really means, what it really represents."

"Christmas in Bethlehem" has its final performance today from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Meadow Branch Church of the Brethren, 818 Old Taneytown Road. Admission is free.

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