Bethlehem comes to Kitsap | Kitsap Week

Dorry and Dudley Jones of Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church are dressed for their roles in the Bethlelem Experience, a re-creation of the City of David, the city of Jesus’ birth.       - Molly Dunn / Contributed
Dorry and Dudley Jones of Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church are dressed for their roles in the Bethlelem Experience, a re-creation of the City of David, the city of Jesus’ birth.
— image credit: Molly Dunn / Contributed

Rudolph, Frosty and Santa are synonymous with Christmas.

The congregation at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church on Bainbridge Island would like to remind folks of another important Christmas figure: Jesus.

“There are a lot of great displays to drive around and see Christmas lights, but there really isn’t a Bethlehem,” church member Dianne Thompson said.

On Dec. 2 and 3, the parking lot of the church will be transformed into a 1st Century village, complete with Roman soldiers, wise men, an inn and, of course, a manger.

Visitors can stay cozy as they drive through the makeshift city of Bethlehem, transporting them back in time. They will witness a bustling city, nomad encampments and town fixtures such as the tax collector and bakery.

“We are trying to make the scene as authentic as possible, without going crazy,” coordinator Molly Dunn said. Actors will be allowed to wear glasses (a relatively new invention) but children are encouraged to keep their light-up shoes at home.

More than 117 costumes have been created for the townspeople. Members of the congregation have had great fun choosing their characters. Costumes range from ornate and lavish for the very wealthy, to tattered and worn for the poor — and come in all sizes, from extra-extra large to extra small.

Dunn, who was part of a similar experience at a church in California, brought the idea to Rolling Bay Presbyterian in mid-September. She expected the congregation to start planning it for the 2012 holiday season. Instead, the idea was met with such enthusiasm it was decided to move ahead with it this year.

The difference between Dunn’s church in California and Rolling Bay is many of the California congregants work in the movie industry and have easy access to lighting and props.

“But here we have livestock right across the street,” Dunn said.

And although they may not work in Hollywood, congregants at Rolling Bay have proven their own with set and costume design. Marathon sewing sessions took place in the church basement. Those who lacked sewing skills cut fabric or ironed.

Props were collected, timber cut from yards, and permits secured from the city. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was this Bethlehem. Pastor Marty Shelton-Janck estimates that when the entire production is complete, more than 5,000 volunteer hours will have been spent.

“The hope is to make this an annual event and invite anyone in the community and other churches to join us next year,” Shelton-Janck said.

But for now, Rolling Bay is pleased by the efforts of its members.

“It’s been very nice to see new members involved, as well as people like me who have been here for 35 years,” Thompson said. “We have a wide spectrum of ages and it’s fun to see how people have been able to plug themselves into the project.”

Teens dressed as Mary mingle with older members dressed as wise men. Babies crawl on the floor among wooden shields and play swords.

“Even if we stopped right now and nobody came, it’s been worth what we’ve done so far,” said Ron Birum, of the building committee. “We’ve already gotten something out of it just by doing this together.”

Shelton-Janck hopes people enjoy the Bethlehem Experience and connect their enjoyment with Christ’s birth.

“If they walk away with that, that’s plenty,” he said.

There won’t be donation boxes or people pounding the pulpit. This is designed to be a time to reflect and wonder about the time surrounding Christ’s birth.

“There has been a heck of a lot of prayer going on for good weather and for the safety of people,” Thompson said.

“It’s been a fabulous project and we want it to be wonderful for the whole community.”

Bethlehem experienceDate: Dec. 2 and 3Time: 6-9 p.m.Where: Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church, 11042 Sunrise Drive, Bainbridge Island. Call: (206) 842-3098.Info: Watch for car attendants, as cars will line up on Valley Road to enter the parking lot. When driving through Bethlehem, drivers will be asked to turn off their headlights.



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