Away in a manger in Gray on Sunday night was a live performance of the biblical nativity scene.
The Living Nativity event was put on by Boones Creek Christian Church, and featured nearly every element of the story in the Book of Luke for no charge. Several hundred cars lined up and down the road for a chance to go through. There were shepherds, wise men, angels, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus for characters, but the inclusion of live camels, donkeys, sheep, and cattle separates the event from the typical holiday display.
A farm in Strawberry Plains supplied the camels for the church’s one-night-only drive-through showing. The camels are a big favorite of the children who wind through the parking lots to see the biblical scenes.
Justin Davis, of Gray, brought his family, consisting of wife, Amber, and daughters Kerrington, 4, and Nova, 1. Davis said it was the first time everyone in his family had seen a camel, and that it was a great family event because it was like a combination of a free zoo with a great story.
The idea originated from member Susie Gibson, who, with her husband, Roy, moved from Illinois, where they were members of a church that had a Living Nativity scene. The community embraced the idea and the event so much there that it grew from its original church to a multi-church event.
From there, the Gibsons brought the idea to Gray, where it, as it did in Illinois, has grown over the last three years. Susie Gibson said the area was a perfect spot for a Living Nativity.
Barry Redman, one of the event’s organizers, said they had about 1,000 cars last year, and that they don’t see any reason to believe this year would be any different. Because of Saturday’s weather, the church had difficulty setting things up ahead of time, and needed to scramble to put it all together. Because of the help of volunteers, Redman said it all still went smoothly, and he’s seeing their work pay off in the enthusiasm on the faces of the public.
Church lifetime member Leon Overbay was wishing cars a “Merry Christmas” as they exited the performance. He said the Living Nativity is representative of the members of the church, which has been around since 1825. Many members of the church are rural farmers, and the Nativity scene, with its farm animals, show what a lot of them are about.
Overbay said he was happy to see so many faces he didn’t recognize passing through the scenes. And, as interesting as it is to see live camels up close, Overbay said they weren’t his favorite part of the event.
“It’s the fellowship of putting it all together for the community,” Overbay said.
The music was provided by recordings in the first year of the production, but starting last year, the music was sung by the Boones Creek Christian Church choir.
It was the music, the live animals, and the biblical story that made the whole event such an emotional experience for Kristi Bisanti and her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor.
After passing through the drive through, she said she was overcome with a special feeling.
“The whole thing gave me a really good feeling,” said Kristi Bisanti, who said she shed a few tears. “The whole thing was a very peaceful and beautiful experience.”