Ligonier church performs 'Bethlehem Experience'
The “Bethlehem Experience” returns Sunday at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Ligonier. Tours begin at 5 p.m. and continue every 15 minutes with the last tour at 6:30 p.m.
Participants tour through the town of Bethlehem and observe the townspeople as they begin to realize the Messiah is about to be born. Tour guides walk groups through the marketplace leading visitors to the final scene of the Nativity. The tour begins in the sanctuary and continues into the pre-school area and concludes in the fellowship hall of the church.
“Our desire is for everyone who attends to walk away having been touched by someone or something and to carry that with them through the Christmas season,” said Kathy Huber who has directed the performance since 2001.
The program was started in 1993 and held annually until 1997 when the coordinators decided to present the event every three years instead.
“It was becoming too much to do every year,” said Huber. “If it happens every year, it is not as special.”
Huber of Ligonier said more people come to see it when it is not held every year.
“They get really excited when it is the year to come see it or be in it,” said Huber.
More than 30 students from the Sunday School pre-school to high school play an active role in the program. As the children grow they get to be in different scenes.
“I love when the children in the church realize it's the year for the Bethlehem Experience again and ask me “What do I get to be this year?” They work so hard learning their lines and even harder trying to be quiet on the night of the performance as the tours pass by,” said Huber. “They love being a part of something with such a special message. My hope is that the children, teens and adults remember participating in something that shared God's gift to the world with others.”
Theresa Kappel and her family have been involved in the program for the last 15 years.
“This will be my second time as a tour guide,” said Kappel. “My children, two sons and a daughter were a part of it before I was.”
Kappel said being a part of programs like the Bethlehem Experience helps the children to better understand the story of the first Christmas.
“As they portray different people in the Bible, they grow up learning all that God did for those people,” said Kappel. “Being a part of the programs that take place in the church encourages the children to remain in the church and grow in their faith.”
The market place includes 11 difference scenes including the potters, spice sellers, bakers, carpenters, clothiers. There is also a scene at a Synagogue, the innkeeper's home and the stable.
A dozen adults also perform the story of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem.
“The production is a wonderful way to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of God's son, Jesus,” said Huber.
Each year the committee seeks a family with a young baby to perform the role of Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus.
“It adds so much when we can have a real baby in the manger scene,” said Huber. “One year we had twins share the role.”
In 2010, John and Cassie Bretch portrayed Joseph and Mary and heir son, Isaiah, portrayed the the infant Jesus. Now three years older, Isaiah and his mother will be with participating in the pre-school group's scene.
“It was a unique experience for us. Isaiah was just 3 months old at the time,” said Bretch. “It was fun to have people we knew come through and see us.”
Bretch, who is the youth ministry coordinator at the church, said the event is an uplifting event for the church.
“It gets the whole church united to work together. All the kids and teens have a role in it,” said Bretch. “It is an outreach to bring people in to get a feel for what it was like for people back then.”
“Anyone coming to see the production should be prepared to “walk through Bethlehem” on a very special night,” said Huber. “The anticipation that something wonderful is about to happen builds as they visit with the people of Bethlehem.
Reservations are required. Call the church office at 724-238-3657. Refreshments will be served following the tour.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.