More than 1,800 people walk through an elaborate set of Bethlehem during a Richland church's annual Christmas pageant.
By ANGELA MILLER
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000
Armed Roman soldiers stopped groups of people before entering the iron gates to Bethlehem so they could be registered in the census for taxes, per the order of Caesar Augustus.
This re-enactment took place at Richland Baptist Church recently, where more than 1,844 people walked through the city of Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus.
The crowds stood in line for hours waiting to be led by a guide through the city. The church provided Bill Gaither music on a large video screen for those sitting in the sanctuary, waiting their turn, for this free event.
Sylvia and Alan Tilley, who recently moved here from Michigan, received a flier about the event during the Christmas parade in Dade City. The youth of Richland Baptist constructed a float for the parade, advertising the upcoming event. The float won first place for a civic organization.
John Edward Johnson said this was his fifth year playing the part of a Roman soldier at the church's "Walk Through Bethlehem" presentation.
A guide named Rebecca was played by Julie Morton, 15, who attends Richland Baptist. Her job was to lead her group through the market place while talking with the merchants about their shops and the rumor about the birth of the Messiah.
One woman called out "fruit for sale," while a man and woman polished metal sheets and brass at their stand. Another shop offered lentils, herbs, honey and vegetables to make a hearty meal for the weary travelers. Across the dirt path, smoked fish were being sold for four mites and salted fish for three mites. For a day's wage, salt could be purchased for seasoning or to be used as sacrifice in temple worship.
Rebecca recited the prophet Micah's words: "A baby will be born in the city of David." She continued to ask shop owners to find out any news about the baby. Women selling murich shells, sapphirine and pulmer, which were used in dying fabrics, said they were going to worship a king not a baby.
Danielle Miller, 13, and Sarah English, 12, played cloth weavers across from the spice shop where Diana and her daughter, Breanna Judah, worked.
At the synagogue, a rabbi was instructing children, while a scribe played by John Chinchar read the Torah to elders played by H.V. Nawlin and Jerry Gilley.
Around the corner were animals and the manger scene where soft lighting fell on the face of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
"This was very impressive. It is evident the enormous amount of work put into this," said Lawson Jolly III, who brought his wife, Jill, and 2-year-old daughter, Justine.
Said Jill Jolly: "It was awesome. I liked the bold salvation message at the end."
The last scene of the tour was the tomb where Jesus was buried after he was crucified. The angel, played by Bruce Robbins, said "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"
An evangelism team handed out pamphlets stating the plan of salvation: You must accept Jesus Christ as Lord of your life and believe that he was born to die on the cross to pay the penalty for sins. The team was available to talk or pray with anyone expressing the desire.
Terri Robbins, church secretary at Richland, was responsible for ensuring that the costumes and the market shops were historically accurate.
"This is our highlight of Christmas; we get so excited," said Donna English, wife of the pastor, Claude E. English, and the coordinator of the project. She said it takes 85 people to run the city and 10 committees helped make it all happen.
Charmon Graves and her husband, Dean Graves, said they brought their children, Daniel, 9, Joshua, 7, and James, 16 months, to take the Bethlehem tour because they had heard so much about it.
"We try and emphasize to them, that Jesus is the reason for the season," Charmon Graves said.
- Angela Miller covers religion news in Pasco County. She can be reached in Dade City at (352) 521-5757, ext. 29 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richland Baptist Church is at 40443 Stewart Road, Zephyrhills. The phone number is (352) 567-2290. Worship services are Sundays at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., and Sunday school is at 9:45 a.m. Youth programs and Bible study are at 7 p.m. Wednesday.