It takes 60 people a night, ranging from Roman gladiators to shepherds, to put on Carmel Presbyterian Church’s annual Drive Thru Christmas.
For longer than two decades, the church has installed sets outside the church, used live animals and organized a two-night event that often draws more than 1,000 people.
“It’s our privilege to offer the drive-thru for the community, because it’s a quiet event,” said the Rev. Anne Hilborn, Carmel Presbyterian associate pastor. “It provides solitude for families in the midst of a busy season.”
Unlike many live Christmas scene events, Carmel Presbyterian offers Old Testament history along with scenes from the birth of Jesus Christ.
Church members direct traffic as visitors enter, and each car is offered a CD with narration for the scenes. Visitors also can listen to the narration on a smart device through the church’s website.
Roman gladiators greet visitors in the parking lot and pace the cars as they go through the scenes. A census taker keeps track of every adult, child, dog and cat – and dogs and cats have been known to ride along – that passes through.
Scenes include a depiction of prophecy from the Bible’s book of Isaiah, Jesus’s mother, Mary, talking to the angel Gabriel, the town of Bethlehem, wise men en route and the nativity scene.
Each year, the church posts sign ups for the many roles in the Christmas scenes, except for the part of baby Jesus, which is played by a doll. Boy Scouts from a troop that meets at the church also take roles.
The church hires animals from Susan’s Mobile Barnyard in Waxhaw every year for several of the scenes. Hilborn said the same animals come each year, and they particularly enjoy a “boisterous” donkey named Eeyore whose job is to stand by the manger.
“One year he got the whole manger in his mouth and shook it,” Hilborn said. “He eats the trees, but we love having him.”
The church spent Saturday setting up the drive-thru, which will be open 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 16-17.
Visitors are invited to enjoy hot chocolate and cookies inside the church after the drive through. Hilborn said people often ask if they can make donations, and this year the church will accept contributions. The money will go to upgrade the sets and running Drive Thru Christmas in 2014.
Hilborn said visitors describe the experience as worship, meaningful and “pointing to the reason for the season. For us, it’s a way of sharing the gospel with the community.”
Carmel Presbyterian’s Drive Thru Christmas is free and open to the community. The church is at 2048 Carmel Road.
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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