When members of New Market Seventh-Day Adventist Church started dreaming up plans to recreate the Biblical Bethlehem, they had no idea it would draw such a crowd.
That first year, the church ran out of tickets for what they dubbed “Journey to Bethlehem” — a guided, scripted tour of a 90,000-square-foot set, complete with a marketplace, pottery shop, the inn and the original nativity.
That was even after adding an additional night’s worth of tours.
“Last year, we kind of planned on about 700 people going through,” said Darlene Anderson, director of the interactive dramatization of New Testament-era Bethlehem. “We ended up with 1,500.”
The event, scheduled for Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 this year, has already run out of its 2,000 tickets. While the tour is free, due to the response, reservations were required.
Staging the event, on the other hand, is not free. But nearly every hour of work and dollar spent on the project has been donated.
It’s made possible by many private donations, financial support from the Seventh-Day Adventist Virginia headquarters and a $14,000 donation from the New Market congregation itself.
Last year, the project cost about $30,000, with an additional $20,000 tacked on this time around.
So why do so many people donate their time and money to an event that won’t return a profit?
“We feel like we’re blessing people by doing it, and we’re also very blessed by doing it,” Anderson said. “It’s good for us, too.”
Members of the Shenandoah County congregation have mostly agreed not to attend the event themselves.
“This year, we’ve asked our church members … to leave space for community members to come through,” Anderson said. “Very few church members have gotten tickets for themselves.”
But they will have the chance to experience the scene during one of the two nights of dress rehearsals, when the roughly 300 actors involved will run through the script.
The congregation considers the project to be a Christmas gift to the community.
“We just hope it’s as good for the community as it is for us,” Anderson said.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or firstname.lastname@example.org