Mauldin First Baptist Church and Mauldin Christian Academy collaborated to create a refreshing respite from the frantic pace, consumerism, and superficiality often dominating the Christmas season. The event, held on November 30, 2018 and December 2, 2018 at Mauldin First Baptist Church, was dubbed “One Starry Night”; approximately 1100-1200 folks visited the church facility at 150 South Main Street in Mauldin, SC. Attendees experienced a celebratory Christmas music presentation and then strolled through Bethlehem streets to reach the stable cradling a live nativity. Wade Leonard, Senior Pastor at Mauldin First Baptist, said that he hoped “it made Christmas come alive” for all those who came and participated.
“One Starry Night” came in two parts. It began with a time of worship planned and coordinated by Pruette Plemens, Mauldin First Baptist Worship Pastor. Choirs from Mauldin Christian Academy and Mauldin First Baptist including church orchestra, guitars, and drummer presented several uplifting musical pieces. Interspersed throughout the program were thought-provoking videos. The children, under the direction of Deborah Plemens, led worship with solos, duets, choruses, and hand motions heralding the coming of Jesus at Christmas and backed by youth and adult voices. The musical program ended with a triumphant and rousing rendition of “Jesus” and “Come Let Us Adore Him”, followed by Rev. Wade Leonard’s invitation to come and see Bethlehem for yourself. [Editors Note: to watch a video of the musical program, visit Mauldin First Baptist Website http://www.fbcmauldin.org/.]
Those who answered that call found themselves in a registration line snaking from the church sanctuary all the way to the fellowship hall where “Bethlehem” resided. On the way to Bethlehem, Rev. Wade Leonard engaged waiting families with magic tricks.
At the “city gate”, participants received “Roman denari” to be used in various activity booths scattered throughout the Bethlehem experience. Once one passed through this archway, Bethlehem burst into sight like a giant pop-up card engaging the senses. Above, stars shimmered against a black swath of sky while middle eastern music sounded softly in the background. People, dressed in Biblical attire, roamed the streets—Roman soldiers, shepherds, tax collectors, beggars, women serving food and pouring beverages to families reclining on cushions. Some of these residents spoke about their lives in Bethlehem and what happened on that “One Starry Night”. At the “inn”, children crafted nativity lights while in “The Census Taker” booth, they registered and paid taxes. Once leaving the census area, they encountered two street beggars asking for alms. If one became hungry, the “bakery” provided a selection of grapes, olives, carrot sticks, raisins, hummus, and pita bread served up with grape juice or water.
Just on the edge of town, the “stables” came into view. A bright star shown over-head and a Roman soldier silently guarded the site. The smell of hay and animals wafted through the air. Within the stables, a camel, several sheep, a goat, and a donkey greeted the weary traveler. Shepherds leaned heavily on their staffs while Mary and Joseph watched over their young charge, nestled in a manger amidst the hay and the animals. A sense of reverence and awe engulfed the visitors as they quietly gazed upon the scene and were reminded once more of Christmas’ true meaning.
Concerning the music portion, Deborah Plemens, Mauldin First Baptist pianist/musician and music teacher at Mauldin Christian Academy, shared, “Mauldin Christian Academy always does a Christmas program as does the church choir. We wanted to combine this year to show that despite our different ages, we can come together to glorify God!” They started planning the program in late summer. All the different groups practiced separately over a ten-week period, coming together for one big dress rehearsal. At least 200 people contributed in some way to this program, including those who built wood-frame trees which were painted, sprayed and wrapped in saran wrap. Colored lights shining on these trees provided a shimmering, contemporary back drop to enhance the musical setting.
Concerning the Bethlehem walk-through experience, Paula Southwell, Children Leader at Mauldin First Baptist shared, “The church family rallied around the idea and got behind the event with everyone wanting to be a part of it. There was an overwhelming amount of support!” Paula said that they started out with published directions for creating such an experience including suggestions for various booths which they adapted particularly with respect to food served and the addition of a live nativity.
The live nativity posed many challenges. At first, they had planned to use local animals but that did not work out. Then, upon returning from a children’s ministry conference, they drove past a trailer on I-85 that advertised “Sam’s Path Petting Zoo”. Paula felt this was the answer to their prayers. The animals for the Friday session were transported from Hartwell, Georgia, Sam Path’s home base. On Sunday, a second set of animals came from the Billy Graham Library’s live nativity and were later returned to that location.
According to Paula, over one hundred people volunteered in this Bethlehem project. The costumes and décor came from stuff the church already had in storage. From Styrofoam sheets carefully crafted to look like stone walls to hand-sewn items reworked to create an effect, “Bethlehem” required the skill of every church member for its set-up and implementation. Paula rented lighting from a wedding company to accomplish that impressive “starry night” effect.
Both November 30th and December 2nd posed other, unforeseen challenges. Predicted rain storms would have made the live nativity difficult since it was stationed outside under tarps. On both days, the rain stopped and held off during the times “One Starry Night” opened. All the planners viewed this as another answer to prayer.
Why do all this work in a season that already demands so much time and effort? In the words of Rev. Wade Leonard, the answer is simple yet profound. “The most important gift that we wanted to give you is hope. We are a nation of wealth; we are a nation of prosperity and abundance. We are also a nation that often time is losing hope. We feel like there are no answers. We see so much evil in the world. We see so many terrible things. That is why God sent His Son to be our hope, to let us know that there is nothing of this world that God cannot defeat or break through.”
[Editors Note: Here are some scenes from the event. Click on an image to see an enlarged view.]
If you are in need of hope and respite, come to Mauldin First Baptist’s Christmas eve candlelight service beginning at 5:00 pm on 12/24/2018. If you wish to remember a loved one who has passed away, arrive at 4:45 p.m. and light a candle in their memory.