GTPulse Weekend Planner: The Christmas Journey: New Hope Community Church Brings the Nativity to Life

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Have you ever burned your fingers on a hot glue gun? How about while gluing hundreds of cotton balls to a sweatshirt? While a crabby toddler clings to your leg? All in an effort to transform your crabby, sippy cup wielding toddler into a sweet and innocent lamb for your church’s annual Sunday school Nativity pageant?

Well friends, that was me, about 17 years ago. I signed my son up to play a lamb thinking the costume on a wandering toddler would be both appropriate to his age and easy to make. My son Trey nailed the wandering toddler portion of our Sunday school pageant, but the costume turned out to be, well, a nightmare. Aside from the burned fingers, the cotton balls were a huge mistake. I am not a crafty individual, hence the cotton balls glued to a sweatshirt. What I didn’t realize was how the cotton would stretch. When Trey walked by a Christmas tree, the cotton stayed on the tree. When he sat on his Grandma’s lap, the cotton stuck to the buttons on her shirt. By the time my sweet little lamb was on stage, the hundreds of painstakingly glued cotton balls had been pulled to their limit and my kid looked more like a wet rat than a lamb.

“Oh well,” I told myself. “I’m sure there were plenty of bandicoot rats in the Bethlehem stable.”

Lucky for me, that was the last time our church asked me to make any type of costume for the Christmas pageant.

The Nativity scene and Christmas pageants, however, continue to be mainstays for churches across the world. And, in Northern Michigan, one church has gone above and beyond the Sunday school pageant to bring a truly spectacular outdoor event called The Christmas Journey.

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New Hope Church in Williamsburg invites you to experience the story of Christmas—from Creation to Bethlehem and beyond—in a 45 minute outdoor walking tour. Actors from area churches bring the scenes to life as you are led along an outdoor woodland path.

“It’s totally outdoors,” says Rick Stewart, lead pastor of New Hope Church. “We think it’s not only one of the safest events you can do but one of the most meaningful for the season.”

Once small groups are assembled, a guide leads the group to different scenes along the journey. Pastor Rick says even though it might seem like a simple walk outdoors, the scenes bring the Bible to life, “Many people have a hard time just describing it– it’s literally the scenes come to life–you’ll be able to see the prophets that are actually foretelling the birth of Christ, you’ll be able to see Mary, Joseph, Gabriel. You’ll be able to see the angels singing to the shepherds and proclaiming Christ’s birth, and then, of course, the Nativity and so many other scenes.”

Carolyn Hoover is the founder of Wing and a Prayer Productions which develops and produces faith based entertainment. She says she has been a part of The Journey for the last few years. Carolyn says, “It really takes a lot of people to pull this off and about 200 people step up every years. We have six nights to cover, and now we have live singers outdoors, it is just beautiful. This year we even have extra helpers because we have to keep volunteers and actors warm and fed each night—all outdoors. It’s not just New Hope—we get help from actors and singers and volunteers from other churches and it just makes for a magical experience.”

Pastor Rick adds that the costuming and set designs transform the experience. “The sets and the lighting is beautiful, the music is amazing and the costumes—which have to be made to fit over warm clothes—just add to the experience,” said Pastor Rick.

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Small groups will encounter a total of 13 vignettes throughout the journey, stopping at each one as the music swells. Pastor Rick says the onlookers are transported to another time, over 2000 years ago.

Beyond the Nativity, one of the biggest highlights for guests of the Journey is the live camel that accompanies the Three Wise Men. “He’s on, we booked him,” laughs Pastor Rick.

Carolyn adds, “The camels actually come with a handler of sorts and they’ve worked with the Three Wise Men, or the Three Wise Guys, as we call them, so our actors know how to handle the camel.”

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But, as we all know, animals (like toddlers) aren’t always the most cooperative. Carolyn says staff and volunteers from New Hope actually built a special enclosure to accommodate the camels. “We learned throughout the years that camels do not like to get wet, and when they do, they move back to their trailer—which is in the parking lot—and there is no stopping them.”

“The camel is the highest paid actor,” laughs Pastor Rick, “and we had to build a barn just for the camel. He’s kind of a diva.”

The Christmas Journey—complete with camels and other barnyard friends—is free and open to the public for one final weekend, December 11, 12 and1 3, between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Participants are asked to dress warmly, wear a face covering and be prepared to spend 45 minutes walking along the trail. Individuals who are not able to walk will be accommodated.

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