CLOVER — Rose Adams and her family have been participating in A Visit to Bethlehem at Clover’s First Baptist Church since her two teens were small. “It’s part of our Christmas tradition,” she said.
When the annual walk-through outdoor drama opened Friday night, Adams was selling bread in the city of Bethlehem, and her two teens, 14-year-old Darby and Hudson, 15, were costumed extras.
For the Adamses and many other participants, telling the story of Jesus’ birth is a crucial part of Christmas. “Without it, there is no Christmas,” said church member Linda Dunlap, who works as a greeter. “This keeps you grounded.”
And people in the Clover community and beyond line up to hear it. Linda Myers, who has directed the outdoor drama for about 10 years, said more than 3,500 people attended last year, from seven states.
“People have come to Bethlehem for many years,” said Myers, owner of the Palmetto House flower and gift shop in Clover. “It’s a family tradition, and whole family groups arrange visits with each other to come to Bethlehem.”
Myers said the production started in 1989 as a live Nativity. Over the years, she said, it was expanded and tweaked. When Myers took over leadership of the project a decade ago, it expanded into a full dramatic production.
That production, which continues Dec.7-8 and 13-15, is based on specific verses in the Bible. It features costumed participants in 11 scenes, beginning with a group of shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem, telling of an angel who has announced that a savior had been born.
Visitors accompanied by a guide walk through different sites at Bethlehem, including census takers, tent makers, a carpentry shop, a well and the innkeeper, before they arrive at the manger scene, where Mary and Joseph speak. The last scene explains the purpose of Jesus’ birth.
“It’s a big outreach of our church,” said Ron Barker, a church member who serves as a tour guide. “It’s an opportunity to present Bethlehem as it was 2,000 years ago at the birth of Christ. The hope is a seed is planted to bring someone closer to Christ.”
Myers said the outdoor cast includes about 100 people in costumed roles, including 43 speaking parts, from Roman soldiers on horseback to children and adults selling wares in Bethlehem. About 75 more people play roles inside the church.
Myers said the production is lighted entirely by fire to make it realistic. “The scenes are spread out, so it feels like they are actually walking through and hearing the commotion and busyness of the city.”
She said many people from other local churches attend. “A lot of churches use is at their own ministry tool, to bring lost and troubled friends and relatives, so we are very committed to it,” she said. “It’s our signature event.”
Myers said the production has a powerful impact on many visitors. “People tell me when they enter those gates, they’re just transported back, and watching their faces as they go through is such a blessing to me.”
Jennifer Becknell • 803-329-4077