Church plans annual Bethlehem City program
By FLORI MEEKS
A bit of time travel will be taking place in December as West Conroe Baptist Church presents its fourth annual Bethlehem City program for the community.
There, guests can see pivotal scenes representing the life of Jesus Christ played out on a series of sets that have been constructed on the church grounds, complete with props, costumed actors and live animals.
Bethlehem City is a fun experience for the whole family that tells the true story of Christmas," said the Rev. Jay Gross, senior pastor. It's a drive through experience in the car.
When people drive through the huge gates of Bethlehem City, they're entering another world. Everything there goes back 2,000 years."
The elaborate Christmas production will take place 6:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 3-6 and Dec. 10-13 on the church grounds, 1855 Longmire Road in Conroe. Admission is free and open to the public.
When guests arrive on campus, they will be offered souvenirs, hot chocolate and candy canes. Representatives from Gideons International will be offering free Bibles.
Guests will be invited to tune their radio to an FM station to hear the local grounds on the grounds performing Christmas music.
Church volunteers also will distribute CDs that will narrate guests' journey through the Bethlehem City tour. Those who don't have CD players in their vehicles can borrow one from the church.
Within Bethlehem City's gates, guests will witness prophesies about the arrival of Jesus and vignettes from his birth, childhood, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension.
Beyond the city, guests can see Christmas light displays and if they want, enter a tent for prayer.
It really has become a family thing," Gross said. We have people come three or four times."
Planning and preparation for the event takes place year round by 27 teams of church members in charge of areas from scripts to greeting, security to electrical support.
During each night of production, Gross estimates that 125-130 people perform in the production and 70-75 support it behind the scenes.
The church gets most of its funding for the program from its annual Bethlehem City Auction in August.
The momentum for the project came from Gross, who started looking for a Christmas outreach for families about five years ago. A friend and pastor offered a program similar to Bethlehem City at his church and encouraged Gross to launch his own production. West Conroe Baptist's program has been averaging about 15,000 people a year and 2,000 guests a night.
Our people have a lot of fun working together," Gross said. And it's made a really significant impact on our community."
He remembers one woman who got in the long line for Bethlehem City near closing time. She asked a greeter if she was too late. She told the greeter she was from Pasadena. Her husband was in the hospital, not doing well, and she needed encouragement. The greeter welcomed her to the program.
Later, the woman wrote the church to say how much the experience meant to her.
We have a lot of people tell us that, that they wouldn't miss it," Bethlehem City coordinator Bobby Cantrell said.
An important aspect of the tour is the creation of scenes illustrating Christmas as it is and Christmas as it was with the birth of Christ. The last scene as you leave is Christmas as it should be," Cantrell said. That's a modern family kneeling at the manger. The sign as you leave says, Keep Christ in Christmas."
For more information, call 936-760-1911.
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