The spirit of Christmas is alive at Matthews United Methodist Church.
On Dec. 1, the church and grounds will be transformed into the town of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus’ birth.
Hundreds of members will don robes and sandals and re-enact the scenes surrounding the birth of Christ. The public is encouraged to visit, stroll through the marketplace, interact with shepherds, soldiers and wise men while listening to herald angels sing.
The event is called Walk Through Bethlehem, and it has a long history in the community, making its debut in 1990 when the church was at the corner of Charles and Ames Streets in Matthews.
As membership swelled and the church expanded to its current location on Trade Street, the event grew with it. Eventually, the walk became such a large undertaking that it was difficult to manage, and the decision was made to discontinue it.
But Walk Through Bethlehem was missed. People asked about it.
“Taking three years off has created a renewed excitement within our congregation,” said Jean Marshman, coordinator of the Walk Through Bethlehem.
The enthusiasm of the church members is crucial, because more than 450 volunteers are needed to make the event happen.
Planning began in January, and the work began soon after. Costumes were brought out of storage, and seamstresses from the membership set to restoring them and creating new ones.
Congregants with handyman skills are building a stable, animal pens, watering wells and a heavenly star. Children are stringing lights, creating pottery and painting props. There’s a schedule of a rotating cast of 150 members per shift to fill, and a group tasked with managing parking for visitors.
“Our entire congregation is involved in some aspect,” said Marshman.
Church member Julie Knafelz and her family participated in the last Walk Through Bethlehem, and she said she’s thrilled it’s back.
“It’s such a great way to start off the holiday season, and (it) really brought out the real reason we celebrate Christmas,” Knafelz said.
Walk Through Bethlehem is free. Matthews United Methodist Church considers the event its gift to the community and hopes to have thousands of visitors.