Living Nativity scene in Hempfield is a holiday tradition

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For one weekend each year, the star of Bethlehem shines above the Word of Life Church in Hempfield.

And, this year was no exception, as thousands of visitors traveled to the church for its annual live Nativity.

The church's interactive presentation, held Friday through Sunday, offers a unique Christmas experience that uses musical performances and tours that allow visitors to walk through the biblical tale from the time the angel appeared to Mary informing her that she was with child to Jesus’ birth in a modest manger in Bethlehem.

The production began in 2005 and today consists of more than 100 church members who serve as actors, musicians and tour guides, said Word of Life Pastor Tom Walters.

"It’s always a very positive event," he said. "It’s our gift to the community [at Christmas]. And, we’ll keep offering it as long as the community wants it."

Except for a brief scene in which shepherds stand around a bonfire discussing the star and the angels they had seen that night, the production is performed inside the church off Route 136.

Visitors are greeted by actors portraying shepherds, townspeople and Roman guards. This year, a live camel was at the entrance, setting the mood for the period presentation.

Siblings Max, Michaela and Andrew Davis, ages 10, 13 and 16, traveled from Clarksburg with their parents for the event and petted the camel.

"This is our first time here," said the children’s father, Mike Davis. "We’ve been to similar ones but heard this one was special."

The presentation begins with a musical performance in the sanctuary. Audience members are then escorted through the facility, walking through elaborate scenes depicting what it was like at the time of Jesus’ birth.

At one point, the tour travels along a street in Bethlehem where merchants, bakers and townspeople go about their daily chores while discussing the birth of a baby in a manger to a couple who came to the town for the census but could find nowhere to stay.

The path eventually leads to Joseph and Mary — this year portrayed by brother and sister, Jonathan and Courtney Edwards — as they proudly display their newborn son.

"The whole thing is highlighting Jesus’ birth," said Lynn Reinsmith, drama director. "Our purpose is to give people the feel of what it would have been like in Bethlehem.

"To feel you’re part of it," she added.

Construction of the sets begins in September and rehearsals start early in November, Mrs. Reinsmith said.

"It’s quite an experience," she said.

Before leaving, visitors were treated to a free cookie and a cup of hot chocolate in the church cafe, where many sat, discussing the experience and the meaning of Christmas.

Linda Metz, freelance writer:

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