Story by Rick Hiduk /Submitted Photos
(Also published in Holiday Living)
The Journey to Bethlehem, coordinated by members of Tunkhannock United Methodist Church (TUMC), is entering its fourth year and will be held Friday and Saturday, Dec. 13 and 14. Guests start at TUMC at Church and Warren streets and move through eight stations in the immediate neighborhood on a horse-drawn wagon. The Journey is free and open to the public.
According to event publicity coordinator Hatsy Eberhardt, more than 80 people are involved in the annual production, which gets a little bigger and better each year. Volunteers include costumed actors, narrators, wagoneers, traffic directors and those who bake cookies and prepare warm beverages that are enjoyed by participants at the end of their Journey.
The story, of course, is based on the Biblical account of the birth of the Christ child and the events that lead up to the celebrated occasion. Each participant receives a census card and a coin to begin the adventure, which starts at the gates of the city of Bethlehem. The dialog of a well-rehearsed cast that includes shepherds, soldiers, angels, the holy family and even a few thieves and beggars, is amplified to ensure that guests hear every sacred word.
Groups of two dozen people leave the church about every 15 minutes, and it takes a half hour or so to get through the scenes, each of which features lavish sets and apparel. The final stop, where the wise men arrive at the nativity is particularly beautiful, Eberhardt related, and features live music from the TUMC Choir.
A family-friendly movie is screened at the church to keep youngsters occupied until the next wagon is available, and there is plenty of hot chocolate, coffee, tea and cider to enjoy with cookies upon their return. And don’t worry about the evening chill, says Eberhardt. “It’s important for people to know that we have all kinds of blankets to keep them warm. We make sure that everybody is comfortable.” There are also propane heaters at each stop.
Eberhardt credits event chairwoman Deborah Kintner for bringing the idea to the church and applying for a small grant that helped with the development of the sets and purchase of costumes and sound equipment. Since then, dedicated parishioners and other members of the community have ensured that the production continues. “It’s something that we do as a free gift to the community,” Eberhardt remarked, expressing gratitude as well to municipal authorities for closing streets and allowing for the use of public property.
In 2018, more than 300 people took the Journey. No reservations are required, but wagons are filled on a first-come, first-served basis from 6 to 9 pm. For updates and more details, interested readers may log on to www.tunkumc.org.