Bethlehem Walk Celebrates Spirit of the Season
Mountain View UMC's Christmas presentation re-creates the scene of Jesus' birth.
Hundreds of volunteers present a simulation of life in Bethlehem 20 centuries ago. The ancient, holy city comes alive Dec. 4-5 and Dec. 10-11 in an "interactive play" on two acres at the church at the intersection of Jamerson and Trickum roads in northeast Cobb County.
About 6,000 Bethlehem Walk visitors last year interacted with shopkeepers and tradespeople working as they might have 20 centuries ago. Under the watchful eyes of Roman soldiers who change the guard at the gate four times nightly, Bethlehem townspeople in period costumes are busy making baskets, jewelry, games, leather goods, ropes, woven goods, copper and glass items and woodwork, while others offer spices, herbs, baked candies, fruit and vegetables. One visitor whose grandmother lives in Israel observed that the scene was authentic.
East Cobb Bethlehem "tourists" also will see a donkey, sheep, goats, chickens and doves, as well as angels and a tax collector doing his job. Visitors can sign the Roman census to prove they were there and then visit the manger scene that is the reason for Bethlehem Walk.
To ease transition back to the 21st century, exiting visitors can go into the church sanctuary to pray, light a candle for a loved one and listen to volunteers from the church and community perform Christmas music.
"Every year it gets better, and every year we get better at doing it better," says Cindy Thorne, Bethlehem's "mayor" for the fifth year. "It's awesome this year; we have lots of talent, new costumes, a rebuilt nativity structure and live music at the nativity with interactive Christmas carols."
The mayor and other volunteers from Mountain View, other churches and individuals have been working on this year's program since September, and about 175 people have roles in the town and behind the scenes each night. "This is a community ministry," said Thorne. "It's an awesome gift to the community at Christmas time . If you want to be blessed, be there; if you want to be doubly blessed, be a part of it."
Participants weather the weather with layered clothing and hot chocolate, and guests are warmed with complimentary hot cider. Admission is free and nothing is for sale, but donations are accepted to cover annual expenses of $1,500 to $2,500.
"It's a self-funding ministry," said the mayor. "We're very frugal and work with what we have – we're good stewards." All costumes and labor are donated.
Roman guards allow visitors into Bethlehem from 7-9 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday and next Friday and Saturday. Preschoolers, homeschoolers, Christian school students and senior citizen groups can register to tour the town from 9:30 a.m. to noon Friday, Dec. 10, at the Bethlehem Walk site.
"Over 600 preschoolers from as far away as Ellijay have registered for Friday, which is an extra special day," says Thorne. "We'll have dove releases Friday morning, weather permitting."
Police officers and parking volunteers will help the handicapped and others park in the church lot, and overflow visitors can park at nearby Davis Elementary School.
Thorne said volunteers brave cold weather every year because "we want to put Christ back in Christmas. This is our gift to the community. It starts the season off with the reason for the season – it's all about one little baby.
"You forget about the commercialism, the hype and the hoopla. Bethlehem Walk sets the tone for the whole season."