Come, Get to Know Us: Hardy Memorial’s Walk-Through Bethlehem
Hardy Memorial UMC has transformed a Christmas tradition into community outreach by inviting their neighbors inside the church for a “Walk-Through Bethlehem.”
For several years, Hardy Memorial UMC offered their community the chance to travel back in time from the comfort of their own cars to the night Christ was born. But each year, as the line of cars stretched further and further down Kings Highway, faithful volunteers grew wearier and wearier.
“The Drive-Through Bethlehem took a lot of volunteers to set up. It reached the point where we were experiencing volunteer fatigue,” said the Rev. Patrick Evans.
Keep Bethlehem. Lose the Cars.
His solution? Keep Bethlehem but lose the cars. Invite the community inside the church for a more interactive experience that was also less draining on faithful church members. At first, some of his congregants were hesitant to change the format of the beloved Advent tradition. The conversations that followed offered Hardy Memorial the opportunity to thoughtfully consider the purpose of the event. Was it for the enjoyment of the congregation or an outreach effort for the community? Ultimately, Hardy Memorial decided to embrace the chance to welcome their neighbors inside the church where they could not only celebrate the Season but get a chance to really know each other.
Now, the process of transforming the narthex into the streets of Bethlehem is a meaningful part of the Advent season. Week by week, as Christmas day draws near, the church watches as Bethlehem comes to life all around them. “It is part of our anticipation for Christmas,” Evans said, “It draws all of us in.”
The House of Bread
On the evening of the event, visitors are greeted at the church doors by a pair of Roman soldiers taking a census, a fun way for church leadership to collect valuable follow-up contact information from their visitors. Once inside the building, each family is met with a “guide,” a trained host in period costume who will then escort them through the streets of Bethlehem and introduce them to the residents of the ancient city. Along the way, children have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities. They will grind frankincense and myrrh in the spice market, write Hebrew letters with a scribe, and make cinnamon toast at the bread station in remembrance that Bethlehem was “the house of bread.”
Outside the church, they can visit animals from the time of Christ, with the exception of camels. “Do you know how much it costs to rent a camel?” Evans exclaims.
A Meaningful Event
Evans says that although the event is smaller now than the drive through event, it is also more intimate and meaningful than it was before. It is a sweet reminder for not only the church but the entire community, that Christ’s birth was less about pomp and circumstance than it was the breaching of the walls that separated us from God. The love of God drew near in Bethlehem. It walked among us, hungered with us, sorrowed with us, and sat down beside us at the table of humanity. And because he so loved us, we are free to love each other.
“As part of the evening, we have church members assigned to simply sit with people, to visit with them,” Evans said. “We want this event to say to our community, ‘Come, get to know us.’
Hardy Memorial’s Walk-Through Bethlehem is December 21, 2018, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.