Orleans church brings Christmas story to life at God’s Restful Acres

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 1:36 pm on Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The role of Mary is played by Rachel Powers, center. Joseph is played by Brent Eubank, right. In the background are, from left, shepherds Paul Taylor, Dan Wilson and Larry Bush. — Daily News/Mike Taylor

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

FENWICK — This passage, from the book of Luke, explains the Christmas story with a fluidity and beauty that, in more than 2,000 years, has yet to be matched. More than one believer, and some who do not, have dreamed of witnessing the story of Christ’s birth first-hand, as it unfolded in the hills and fields surrounding long-ago Bethlehem.

Barring time travel, that’s out. But thanks to the faith, dedication and hard work of some of the congregation of Shiloh Community Church, in Orleans Township, the next best thing will be available from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 13 and 14 at the church’s campground, God’s Restful Acres.

The three kings are portrayed by, from left, Ned Bogert, Charlie Powers and Dan Palmer.

Located at 1494 Jones Road in Fenwick, more than 110 members of the church’s “family” have spent the past several weeks building sets, designing costumes and handling countless behind the scenes chores for what may well be the most elaborate live Nativity since the original.

According to organizer Candi Huntley, who created the dozens of costumes worn by Nativity cast members, the effort has been nothing if not a communal one. From prepping the campground to baking cookies to handling promotion and wrangling the Nativity’s live animal cast, it has been a work brought about by many willing hands.

The rewards, Huntley said, are more than worth it.

“This has generated a lot of excitement within Shiloh and neighboring communities,” Huntley said. “The Living Nativity has brought our church family closer as we use our God given gifts for the community around us.”

Rather than producing the usual static, set-piece Nativity, Huntley and her fellow volunteers opted to make their offering more elaborate and interactive. Several “stations” have been set up along the campground’s gently winding pathways.

Cast members and narrators are prepared with scripts that breathe life into the familiar Bible story. Visitors will be transported to various passages as they are acted out. The well-known highlights of Christ’s birth — the angels’ appearance before the shepherds, the three wise men following the star, and of course the young Mary and Joseph coming from afar to the fabled Bethlehem stable — all are brought to life as the story unfolds.

Angels proclaim the news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. The volunteers angels are, from left, Glenna Mitchell, Erica Coe, Charlene Prewitt and Casie Huntley. — Daily News/Mike Taylor

Brent Eubank, who portrays Joseph, said he is anxious to put all the rehearsals into action.

“I am very excited about this opportunity to put to life the story that I have heard for so many years,” Eubank said. “I really think that in the glitz and glamour of the season, it is important to realize just how simple the Christmas story is. Hopefully, our Live Nativity walkthrough will give people a glimpse at the history behind the holiday.”

Those who might have trouble navigating the well-groomed trails on foot may take advantage of a horse-drawn wagon, provided by horse breeder Jason Hardy. The majestic woodland through which the trail winds only serves to add beauty and atmosphere to the event.

Huntley said the congregation hopes the Nativity will help visitors experience the Christmas Story in a new and compelling way.

“It opens up a dialogue about what Christmas really means and how its message impacts all of our lives,” Huntley said. “For a few minutes, you can step back in time, from our incredibly busy lives, to a simpler time when, on that one night, a baby’s cry changed the world forever.”

The live Nativity, along with hot cocoa and Christmas cookies, are being presented free of charge by the church. More information is available by calling the church office at (616) 761-3584.

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