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A Night in Bethlehem

Town-folk from Oyen, Alberta and surrounding communities came together in 2008 and 2009 to celebrate both Christmas and community.  Each time they gathered, it was on a street in Bethlehem.

For ReverendCatherine, it started when her phone rang one August day. A member of the Evangelical Missionary Church was calling to ask if she, on behalf of the Oyen Ministerial Association, would be interested in meeting with others to discuss a new idea for December’s Christmas event. It was a program published by Group Publications and tried by churches elsewhere.  

Intrigued, Catherine went to the meeting. And so began plans for A Night in Bethlehem.

It was a family affair, structured as an engaging and interactive experience for both visitors and participants to see what it was like in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. All who came toured a typical street in Bethlehem, complete with Roman centurions, tax collectors, livestock, first century shops, and of course, the nativity scene. They met with other town-folk and experienced the story of the Saviour's birth.

As planning evolved it was evident that anyone and everyone in town could participate.  Indeed, the more participants, the better. Many people were recruited because of their known gifts; others volunteered. 

Word spread about Bethlehem, and soon the whole community started to get involved.  Oyen’s Agricultural building was donated to accommodate setup, show-time and takedown. The Knights of Columbus accessed and laid interlocking mats on the dirt floor. The Lion's Club donated booths to set up shops. An electrician hung a big star outside to point people where to go. Others contributed designs and decorations to fill the street, including lights for a star-lit sky and stone walls built from sheets of styrofoam. Still others arrived in first-century costumes to play music and role-play as vendors offering perfumes, ‘period’ farm produce, tie-dyed textiles, small bread loaves, weaving, and the like. As with many community events, food and beverages were donated in abundance.  In the second year, people braved a harsh winter storm, travelling long distances, to get to Bethlehem

Reverend Catherine described the town as electric. Main Street Bethlehem was so crowded visitors could hardly move. Kids were asking, “Is this is what it was really like?” The next day, people were talking and telling about the night before. When asked what they liked about the event, they said that they liked having the Christmas story told so that they could see and experience it in their own way.

The Bethlehem project could have been very costly but locally-found and donated resources helped to make the project a success.  It was a community event, free to all with goodwill donations welcomed.  In the first year alone they raised $1200 and two truckloads of goods for the food bank.  It was a wonderful event for both community and Christmas, bringing neighbours together, whether they attended church or not. A Night in Bethlehem inspired creativity, sharing and fun.  And it did what it was supposed to do – tell the Christmas story. 

At the time of this writing, plans are in the ‘works’ for this year’s event.  A Night in Bethlehem will keep coming to Oyen as long as the communities want it to happen.

For a pdf copy of this story (no pictures, 46 KB) click here.

 

Story written by Colleen Rickard based on conversations with Rev. Catherine Holland, Summer 2010