Two Richmond County Baptist churches will welcome in the Christmas season two days early this weekend with outdoor dramas intended to nourish the soul. But they’ll also offer hot cocoa and cider to combat bodily chills.
First Baptist Church of Hamlet will stage the Nativity, with church members playing Mary, Joseph and their baby seeking safe harbor in a Bethlehem stable. And Mount Olive Baptist will reprise its “Scenes of Christ” drive-through, which will offer glimpses of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and ascension.
Outdoor Nativity, 5:30 and 7 p.m. Friday, First Baptist Church, 208 Charlotte St., Hamlet.
Church member Bob Steele had long dreamed of staging a pageant that would tell the story of Jesus’s birth. Seven years ago, he got his wish.
“It’s something he’s always wanted to do,” music director Mary Snyder said Tuesday. “He really takes a lot of pride in it, and he considers it a ministry.”
Now Steele finds the live animals for the event, which also includes Snyder, the church choir and congregants in richly colored garb depicting Jesus’s family, a jubilant angel, as well as reverent shepherds and Wise Men. This year, for the first time, fledgling pastor Allison Farrah will accompany the silent drama by reading the Gospel of Luke.
Making her debut as an actor, 3-month-old church member Avery Wallace will play the much-swaddled infant Jesus.
“This year, we struggled to find a baby,” Snyder said. Choose one too old, and he or she could wriggle out of the manger.
Snyder is more than a baby wrangler for the production. She will lead a small choir in the singing of Christmas songs pulled from various cantatas. Theirs will be the only sounds the audience will hear, unless a real cow starts lowing or the camel snorts.
Between the approximately 30-minute showings, the church will offer hot cider and cocoa outside, and grilled-cheese sandwiches and soup inside. Children also will be able to pet the sheep, cows, donkey and camel who play parts in the event. (Plenty of hand sanitizer will be available for the germaphobic.)
“This is a real treat for our community,” said Farrah, who has been in Hamlet for years but did not know about the drama until she became church pastor.
“It’s a celebration for our church family to be together, and it’s also a ministry for our community — to be a part of something special in the life of the Church.”
Last year, the two showings pulled in about 300 people, most of whom had seats.
“Scenes of Christ” drive-through, 6-8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Mount Olive Baptist Church, 596 E. Washington St. Ext., Rockingham.
More than 150 actors — and that’s just the humans — will relate the story of Jesus from the angel’s announcement of pregnancy to the Virgin Mary to Jesus’s ascension, 40 days after his rising from the tomb. (That last actor will be on a ladder with his legs shrouded in dark cloth and won’t actually ascend anywhere.)
Many of the 12 scenes will have cloth or other sorts of man-made backdrops. Others, though, will be staged against the forestland outside the church.
Ten adult actors will rotate the role of Jesus in six scenes, including pastor Dan Main as Christ crucified. Their costumes are commodious enough that — if it’s cold — they can wear coats underneath. The stripped and partially naked Jesus will wear a flesh-toned jumpsuit to limit his sufferings.
“We’ve had some years where it’s been 60 degrees,” said church member Joey Bennett, who directs the presentation with Paula Allred. “We had one year where it was sleeting.” (For the record, this weekend is meant to be chilly.)
“It’s been a really positive thing for our church,” Bennett said of the production. “We’ve had people who’ll drive through three or four times, even on one night.” And many of the approximately 1,000 viewers come back year after year, he said.
The story — narrated on CD or accompanied by a script for car riders without CD players — is both joyous and disturbing. (The narrative also is available on the church website: www.mountoliverockingham.com. Rain dates will be posted there, too, if necessary.)
“The story ends on a good note,” Bennett said, “but, obviously, the cross and his being beaten (before the crucifixion) is the thing that sticks with you.”
Entrance to the drive-through will be between the Mount Olive Christian Child Care building and Washington Street Elementary School, and will be clearly marked.
After driving through, visitors are invited to visit the church’s multipurpose building for hot chocolate or cider. Church members will be available to discuss and/or explain any of the 12 scenes.
“Our members enjoy working together to share the good news of Jesus,” said church member Glenda Spate, who has played both an angel and Mary over the years. “People tell us it’s the best way to begin the Christmas season.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]