JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM
What: A free one-mile walking interactive drama depicting the Christmas story
When: Gate opens at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, Saturday — weather permitting
Where: Grace Community Church, 3754 Service Rd., Ceres
Organizers of the popular annual “Journey to Bethlehem” event hope to get a break from the weather that partially rained out their outdoor venue during last week’s opening.
Journey opened Thursday and despite intermittent sprinkles, Grace Community Christian Church took seven groups on tours. Skies unloaded Friday night to put a yuletide kibosh on the event but 10 groups managed to get through tours on Saturday despite a spattering of raindrops.
“There is a lot of work into this and it really stinks when we can’t run it the six nights,” commented organizer Tamara Hott.
The event continues this week – if weather cooperates – but the church may extend the run another week if tours are hampered by rain Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Weather forecasters indicate a 20 percent chance of rain on Thursday night but clear skies on Friday and Saturday evenings. The church will notify the public of any cancellations or extension through its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pages/Grace-Community-Christian-Church, and church website, www.gracecerees.org. Both sites will be updated for potential cancellations by 5 p.m. on those days.
The event — a favorite since it debuted in Ceres in 1997 — attempts to recreate what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to make the six-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the Roman decreed census leading up to the birth of the Christ child. Tours must get past Roman soldiers who occupy the territory and get a chance to visit a marketplace and mingle with merchants before getting a chance to see Mary and Joseph cradling Jesus in a straw-strewn manger setting. The tours are the church’s gift to the community.
Weather permitting, the annual event will be offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The gate opens at 5 p.m. for a starting at 7 p.m. run on Thursdays and Fridays; while Saturday’s tours start at 6 p.m. with gates opening at 5 p.m. Journey is offered at Grace Community Christian Church’s sprawling rural church campus at 3754 Service Road.
Pulling off the event is no small task. The building of sets starts in late spring. There’s also costume making which started November. The cast begins practicing and men grow their bears starting in the fall. It all comes together with the help of approximately 250 people as the church’s largest ministry of the year.
The event requires a cast of approximately 150 persons. There’s a also a behind-the scenes crew that feeds the cast, a crew that helps park cars, a coffee crew and those who man the entrance and exit tents. Members and non-members start signing up for jobs in October and men start wearing their beards.
Because it’s not uncommon for crowds of 1,300 to show up in a single night, participants are urged to come early to reduce the wait and come bundled in blankets because the experience is all outdoors in chilly temperatures.
Parking is available at the church site at 3754 E. Service Road. For more information, call 531-1902.
Pastor Wayne Unger and his wife Sue started the Ceres event, modeling the event after one started by his home pastor in St. Charles, Mo.