OWOSSO — Area residents will be able to watch the story of the first Christmas come to life, thanks to a reenactment of the birth of Jesus presented by the Owosso First United Methodist Church.
The drive-through Journey to Bethlehem, featuring nine outdoor scenes, is set for 5:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7 outside the church, 1500 N. Water St. The entrance for vehicles will be at the corner of Washington and North streets.
“It is a gift to the community and ourselves,” said Carolyn Wing, co-chairwoman of the event with Sharon Marsh and Brian Drake. “It’s very meaningful. Church members who are not participating are driving through also.
“In the busy-ness of the holidays, Journey to Bethlehem makes you realize what the true meaning of Christmas is.”
The church first began putting on the living nativity performance in the early 1990s. The event is free, but donations are accepted. After a hiatus, Journey to Bethlehem came back in about 2015.
Since the performance in 2017 — which was so successful it drew about 450 vehicles — the once-annual event is now shown every other year, Wing said.
“We decided on every other year because it is a lot of work,” she said. “We wanted to give our church members a little bit of a break. It’s a big commitment.”
In fact, it takes about 100 volunteers to present Journey to Bethlehem, with 60 actors (two rotating casts of 30 each), greeters, traffic controllers, people setting up and maintaining nine sets, and a kitchen crew to feed the actors who are on break.
This year, church member Cindy Oeschger cast the roles, and took care of everyone’s costumes and accessories, putting in a tremendous amount of work, Wing said.
But that’s what it takes to present what has become a holiday tradition for many area families. One woman on the church’s Facebook page wrote that driving through brought her to tears.
About 1,000 luminaries set up by the church’s youth group will line the driveway and guide vehicles through the series of scenes. There will be other lights, music and Animal Oasis in Clinton Township is providing live animals, including camels, sheep, donkeys and possibly some goats.
The scenes start with the decree from Caesar Augustus that led Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem; then the angel Gabriel; traveling families; shepherds and their flocks; the inn; the Heavenly Host; the three wise men with their camels; and the manger scene.
Sporting period costumes, the Rev. Deane Wyllys and his wife Nancy Wyllys will greet cars as they enter the church property. Wyllys became Owosso First United Methodist’s preacher after longtime pastor the Rev. Calvin Long retired in June 2018.
“This will be the first time the Rev. Dean has seen Journey to Bethlehem,” Wing said. “He’s really excited about it.”
There are a few rules for attendees to follow. Vehicles should enter via North Washington Street and exit southbound on Water. They are limited to passenger cars, trucks and vans. Pedestrians are not allowed to walk through.
A rain date has been set for Dec. 8. Journey to Bethlehem will not be canceled due to cold temperatures or a bit of snow, Wing said.
“This special event is to give God the glory and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus,” Wing said. “It is a blessing.”