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St. James Lutheran Church hosts live Nativity walk

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FISH FOR SALE:A marketplacevendor, played by Wally Champion, attempts to interest visitors in goods for sale in St. James Lutheran Church's Christmas Nativity walk Friday night.
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THE SHAKEDOWN: Tax collectors, portrayed by (from left) Mitch McPherson, Danny Saylors and Randy Eppard, heckle a character paying his taxes in St. James Lutheran Church's Christmas Nativity walk Friday night.
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THE SCHEMING KING: Kynan Pennington portrays the Biblical King Herod in St. James Lutheran Church's Christmas Nativity walk Friday night.

BY Emily Rachelle Russell - erussell@chronicle-tribune.com

St. James Lutheran Church is hosting its second annual Christmas Nativity walk this weekend, with tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to guide visitors through scenes of the Christian Christmas story.

From 4-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2-5 p.m. Sunday, church members and other community volunteers in costume play Biblical characters and perform scenes such as “The Prophets,” “The Annunciation,” “The Census” and “The Inn.” Characters include the angel Gabriel, King Herod, the wise men, the innkeeper, tax collectors and Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus.

“I just think it’s a fabulous thing,” said church secretary Brenda Champion. “Just to walk through and see how they’ve put this together, and then the possible meaning of it is just absolutely awesome.”

According to Champion, Pastor William Lahrman was involved in a similar event in a former pastorate and brought the idea to St. James as a way to reach out to the community.

Visitors register upon entry and receive a census card, colored token for their tour group and fabric pouch with plastic coins to pay taxes. Families with children can take part in crafts to the side of the auditorium, which is decorated with Christmas trees and a variety of Nativity figures. Signs hang along the sanctuary walls with information about Christmas, Advent and mangers.

By Champion’s estimate, between 70 and 75 church members and other community volunteers take part in the 10 scenes that progress through the traditional Biblical story of the virgin Mary’s conception, a census in Bethlehem, the angel Gabriel’s visits to both Mary and Joseph as well as a field of shepherds, three kings’ journey to find the baby Jesus and King Herod’s attempt to overthrow the new infant king.

The sets are elaborate, with painted sheets portraying backgrounds of fields and deserts hanging behind characters while red and blue colored lights and bright white spotlights add to the dramatic rendering of the Bible stories. The marketplace, where characters attempt to sell guests goods such as cloth, jewelry and food, smells of the baked nuts at a vendor's table. 

The walk is highly interactional, with characters in the marketplace gossiping with guests and tax collectors shaking down visitors for their coins. The weary innkeeper tasked with turning away the overflow of guests in Bethlehem sends visitors off with a prayer. In the final scene at the stable, a reader leads a prayer and time of quiet reflection before sending guests on their way with a blessing. At the exit, visitors are given gift bags and candy canes.

Children and families, as well as individuals and couples, are welcomed into the tour, which lasts about 40 minutes. Tours leave every 10 minutes and are led by characters in costume with color-coded flags matching the tokens provided to guests when they register.

Champion recalls about 300 guests walking through last year’s event and anticipates between 300 and 350 this year. She said the event is important to the church as an outreach to the community.

“[St. James Lutheran Church wants] to give people an idea of that day and time and what transpired before the birth of Jesus,” Champion said.

For more information on the Nativity walk, contact the church at 765-662-3092.