Durham Memorial Baptist presents first century Bethlehem marketplace, living Nativity tour
Durham Memorial Baptist Church is going “Back to Bethlehem.” The eastern Durham County church is recreating a first century marketplace to tell the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph’s journey and Jesus’ birth.
It’s the first time Durham Memorial Baptist has held the event in its new Family Life Center at the church on Robbins Road.
Church member John Long saw a similar Bethlehem scene in a church outside Asheville last year with his son, and wanted to bring the same kind of event to his church. More than 100 people have been involved, from cutting bamboo for market stall roofs to construction to portraying the village characters. “Back to Bethlehem” will be presented from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday.
When visitors arrive at the church, they are assigned a biblical family name by a member portraying King Herod, then told they must go be counted for the census. They proceed first to the church sanctuary for music and a slideshow about Jesus and Bethlehem, then are called out to head to the marketplace. They’re then greeted by a census taker, followed by a tax collector before making their way from market stall to stall, with church members portraying those who sold wares in the biblical time of Jesus’ birth.
Scripts were written by the Rev. Ed Denton, pastor of Durham Memorial Baptist, and church member Shannon Strayhorn.
Strayhorn said it was a really interesting idea for the church to do. She is also part of the marketplace as a woman working in the dye shop, weaver and tailor. She hopes visitors will get a good feeling for the Christmas story, especially if they haven’t heard it before.
Long said he is so excited to see the months of planning come together. It was a lot of hard work but he was glad to do it, he said.
Church member Charlie Shelton has helped with construction.
“We’re not doing this to promote church business, but to tell people about Jesus Christ,” Shelton said. “When good people get together and join hands, good things come of it, I think.”
Denton said “Back to Bethlehem has been a wonderful fellowship event so far as the church coming together.
“We’ve been blessed to grow in fellowship and we’re excited about bring the story of Jesus to the community,” Denton said. He also noted the effort of Maurice “Steve” Stephenson, a church member who helped out a lot in preparation, and passed away a month ago. Denton said they’ve grown closer to each other and the community. Two other churches will also participate – Iglesia Hispana Durham Memorial, which meets at the church, and Cornerstone Community Church, located across the street.
Durham Memorial Baptist alternates presenting a choir cantata or a drama each year. Two years ago, the church hosted a living Nativity that visitors drove through. This time, the indoor location makes it weatherproof and handicapped accessible. They will have a living Nativity to end the “Back to Bethlehem” tour, with Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus as well as real donkeys and goats. Baby Jesus will be a doll, because that part of the event is outside. Visitors then go back inside the center for refreshments and fellowship with church members who will be there to talk about the Bible and their church.
“Not only are we telling the story, but most people don’t know life in the first century,” Long said. “It’s not a replica of Jerusalem, but it gives an idea of what life was like in the time of Jesus.”