Church Calls It Quits for a Walk Through Bethlehem | News
For many people, Christmas in Central Georgia will be a little different this year. Shirley Hills Baptist Church in Warner Robins is calling it quits on their annual Walk Through Bethlehem.
In December the church put on a life-like reproduction of the town with a real nativity scene, but this year they decided to end their fourteen year production.
Steven Justen points out the route the tour of Bethlehem normally takes. He says he has worked on the production, along with his family for fourteen years and he says he's sad to see it go.
"Walk through Bethlehem was Christmas to us." says Justen
Justen played a roman soldier with real swords and armor. He says they wanted to be authentic; even the babies playing Jesus were real. He says they would switch out the babies every hour.
Justen describes one memory that sticks out. "I had a little girl probably about seven years old, she came up to me and she had colored a picture, drew a picture of a roman soldier and she handed it to me and she says I'll be praying for you and I want you to have this and I still have that picture at home."
He says the idea for Walk Through Bethlehem came from a family that had just joined their church and he says everyone came together to build it.
"You had the young folks and you had the elderly, you had everybody working to put this city together." says Justen.
Production Coordinator Clay Mims says, it took a team of 500 people to run the show each night and he says thousands of people came to see it.
"It was chaos, controlled chaos the logistics behind Walk through Bethlehem was amazing." says Mims.
He says each night about four thousand people came through the sanctuary and over fourteen years they averaged 140,000 people.
This year, there won't be a Walk Through Bethlehem. Mims says it took around $25,000 to pay for the building materials and rent the animals, but the decision to end the production had nothing to do with money or attendance. He says every event has a season and theirs was up. "After fourteen years we decided to change and look for another ministry." says Mims.
He says they've donated their large props to Baxley First Baptist Church, who a Walk Through Bethlehem five years ago. He says Shirley Hills has partnered with Centerville First Baptist Church to put on a play this Christmas.