One thousand people, including 400 children, visited Mauldin First Baptist Church’s “Night of Glory,” presented on 12-6-2019 for Mauldin Christian Academy and on 12-8-2019 for the community at large. The event included a celebratory one-hour musical tribute performed by the church’s adult choir, children’s choral groups from Mauldin Christian Academy and the church, and an orchestra. Following this, participants had the opportunity to walk through a Bethlehem experience and view the live nativity for themselves.
What does it take to transform a church’s fellowship hall into a Bethlehem experience for Christmas? Well, first, you need someone dedicated and tireless like Paula Southwell, Preschool and Children’s Pastor at Mauldin First Baptist, to plan and coordinate the affair and then, you need many volunteers. Ms. Southwell says that it required 150 hard-working folks pulling together to bring this event to life. Church attendees contributed a number of props such as pillows and vases to make the site look authentic. Since this was the second year for this event, walls, signs, tents, and other “sets” were taken out of storage, assembled, and put into place. She says that they began working on this right after Thanksgiving and that the hardest part was displacing classes and events from the fellowship hall so that the space could be totally dedicated to the creating “Bethlehem!” Ms. Southwell recruited church attendees to dress in period costumes and play the parts of key people in Bethlehem’s Christmas story. It took 4 days of intense work to erect the Bethlehem experience and just 1 hour and 18 minutes to tear it all down thanks to the many helpers who graciously gave of their time and talents.
Those who journeyed to “Bethlehem” sampled food items reflecting that locale and time. Sam’s Path in Hartwell, Georgia, supplied the goats, sheep, donkey, and camel for the live nativity. The 3-year-old camel, named Thor, loved all the attention and he especially enjoyed eating every carrot offered to him!
Ms. Southwell says that they made a few small changes in this year’s Bethlehem experience. They situated a storyteller’s tent near the entrance where attendees could hear the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2. In addition, they simplified craft and census-taking activities to make them more interesting for children. Finally, in the area harboring the live nativity, they added tables and seating with cocoa and coffee served nearby, creating it a place where children could linger and interact with the animals and everyone could reflect on the wonder of that first Christmas night.
One grandmother, Bridget Latimer Geddie, brought her two grandsons, Taylor Latimer (6 years old at the time) and Mac Latimer (4 years old) to the Bethlehem experience. She had this to say about the event, “The activities provided were just enough for them to enjoy and were not too long or involved.” She shared that they thoroughly enjoyed creating the manger ornament and listened with rapt attention to the story of Jesus’ birth as relayed by the storyteller. Signing their own names for the census and paying their taxes with the provided coins intrigued them. They delighted in meeting and interacting with the Roman soldiers and warming themselves at pretend fires. Taylor especially enjoyed helping out the beggar by sharing his coins. Sitting on pillows at low tables captured their imaginations and the food items especially appealed to them. Taylor liked the pita bread, humus, grapes, and carrots while Mac enjoyed the cheese, olives, and salami. They both loved the cookies. However, the nativity scene highlighted their night and the children interacted with all the animals at the nativity scene, finding the camel to be very sweet and friendly.
Sponsoring an event like this requires a lot of money, but the church totally funds it, offering it free to the community. So many things clamor for our attention during the busy and frantic Christmas season. This event slowed it all down and captured the wonder, the peace, the joy of Christmas’ true meaning. Ms. Southwell shared this, “It is my hope that the experience makes the Christmas story a bit more real for children.” Judging from the reactions of Taylor and Mac, it did just that!