WINDSOR, N.S. — The congregation at the Windsor United Church is buzzing with excitement as they prepare to host their first outdoor nativity scene.
Journey to Bethlehem will transport visitors back to a simpler time and, the congregation hopes, bring peace and joy as people explore the various stations and take time to reflect on the very first Christmas.
“It’s not about raising money for us. It’s not about putting a roof on the church. It’s not about getting people into church,” said Rev. David Hann, who joined the Windsor United Church in October 2017.
“It’s about us reaching out to the community in a really busy, stressful season and sometimes even a sad time of loneliness and struggle.”
The play will be held over two days — Dec. 14 and 15 — from 6-7:30 p.m. The church will be collecting a freewill offering, which will then be donated to the Windsor-West Hants School Breakfast Program.
Hann said he’s wanted to host the outdoor nativity for nearly two decades.
“Back in 1999 when I was serving a congregation in Charlottetown, a community in Stratford... hosted this and my wife and our four children, at that time were young, and we went to it and I was just mesmerized by it. It was just a neat experience,” said Hann.
“I said if I ever had a community that dared to try it, I would do it.”
When he pitched the idea of a walk-through live nativity to his congregation, there was an immediate response. Planning began in earnest over the summer months and with about 50 people already signed up to help out over the two-day event, Hann is just radiating with excitement.
“I was looking for that one person who was going to believe in it because... if others believe in it, then it will happen.”
Parishioner Carole Anne Casey was sold from the moment she heard about the event. The pair are co-chairing Journey to Bethlehem, and are quick to point out that fellow members of the congregation are stepping up to volunteer time, talent and goods.
“What it’s done for the congregation will blow your mind. I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Casey, noting that when she calls someone, they immediately ask how they can help.
Seeking simple joys
Hann said they knew from the start they wanted to make the event as eco-friendly as possible so they’re repurposing clothing, and relying on donations to build props.
“We don’t want to leave a footprint on the earth so we decided we weren’t going to start off asking people for money so that we could buy new material and get a group together to sew new things. We wanted to take what we already had in our community,” he said.
There will be carollers, guards, census takers, shepherds, angels and more at the event. Dragonfly Haven Therapeutic Farm will be bringing a donkey and children with the 4-H program are also involved. There will be an indoor Bethlehem Cafe, where people can access the church’s washroom facilities and enjoy a hot chocolate. They will be handing out bags of cookies, which represent gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Hann said Journey to Bethlehem is not a play but a self-guided tour. Visitors can stop by whatever stations they wish, and if, for example, they just want to sit with the carollers and enjoy a sing-along, that’s fine.
“We’re just feeling that in this time of such worldwide strife... this is a way where we’re just going to come together and enjoy simple joy,” said Hann.
The actors don’t have lines per se, but they will have characters to play.
For Ann MacArthur, who is helping co-ordinate costumes and props, the event has been a joy to work on since the get-go. She’s excited to see it all come together.
“It’s relaxed. It’s creative. It allows us to be part of the greater community but with no stress. We don’t have any lines,” said MacArthur, smiling.
The trio said the response they’ve received from the community at large has been positive. They say people are looking for something that isn’t commercialized in order to celebrate the holiday.
“There are people who are still looking for Disney World and big trips but I think there’s a lot of families that are out there that are saying, ‘we want basic again, we don’t want life to be stressful; we want to find out what’s important to us; we want the family to be important; we want to feel connected to the generations,’” said Hann.
He says Journey to Bethlehem is the perfect fit for someone looking for a relaxed atmosphere where the true meaning of the holiday might be discovered.
“There’s no grab bags; you’re not going to win money. It’s as simple as can be,” said Hann.
“I think our life is so complicated and the world has become so complicated that we’re craving for simple and we’re craving for some inner joy and peace," he said.
“If we can make that happen, then I think we have accomplished an incredible mission in this time of year.”
If you go
What: Journey to Bethlehem, a walk-through event to experience the story of the first Christmas. There will be live animals, actors, carolling and free hot chocolate and cookies.
When: Dec. 14 and Dec. 15 from 6-7:30 p.m.
Where: Windsor United Church parking lot, 613 King St.; entrance is on Wentworth Street and exit is on St. John Street.
Cost: Freewill donation in support of the Windsor-West Hants School Breakfast Program.
Info: 902-798-2667; email@example.com