Several years ago I agreed to coordinate Journey to Bethlehem, a Christmas tradition at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church that began shortly after our pastor, Tupper Garden, began his ministry there.
He described a different approach to the usual re-enactment of the Nativity. The characters, dressed in appropriate costumes, are the same–Mary and Joseph, shepherds, and the Wise Men. The difference involves the three separate “journeys,” and the combination of caroling and community participation. Live animals are also part of the scene.
About five o’clock on the Sunday before Christmas, the three groups meet at three separate locations. The costumed characters are joined by everyone who would like to make the pilgrimage – other church members or community residents. As they make their way to the church where a stable has been erected, they fill the cold December air with joyous Christmas carols. Spectators who prefer not to “travel” gather before the stable to witness the re-enactment of that special night.
My major problem involved the animals. When I contacted the farmer who had loaned us sheep he said no, not this year. Last year one of them escaped and he had a difficult time catching it. The records did not have the name of the donkey owner.
Someone told me that Covenant Presbyterian Church had live animals for their nativity tableau, so I decided to consult my good friend, Imogene Gregory who was at that time the director of Christian Education. We had worked together when our children were young and often compared notes now. Imogene listened patiently as I poured out my frustration, complaining that time was passing swiftly and so far I had no animals – not a one!
“Well, I can’t help you with the donkey, or the sheep, but I know where you can get two llamas to sub for camels and a curly-haired goat that could pass for a sheep.”
She explained that her daughter, Mary Beth Coffey, who lives on Bent Mountain, has llamas and goats, and would be delighted to let us use them for the Journey. Overjoyed, I called Mary Beth and confirmed her mother’s offer. Now – to find a donkey!
Eventually, I learned that Vivian Gobble in Vinton had supplied the donkey and I made another phone call. Sure, she said she would be glad for us to use the donkey again, but we would have to find transportation for she no longer had a trailer. After several phone calls I was told by “someone who knew someone” that a man in Montvale who moved horses for them might be able to transport the donkey. But, she said, he will probably charge you. I thanked her and took the number.
Hesitantly, I made the call. After all, I had only two days to find someone to help. I got an answering machine. I left a lengthy message, describing my need and asking for a return call. Those two days passed swiftly and no call. I decided Mary would have to walk to the stable Sunday evening.
On Saturday evening I was serving guests when the telephone rang.
“This is Lon Reed. You called about moving a donkey tomorrow? Yes, I can do it. When should I be there?”
“Oh, but wait – first I have to know how much you charge . . . ” I knew there was little money available for the effort that would involve going from Montvale to Vinton to Raleigh Court and then back again.
“I wouldn’t think of charging you!” came the totally unexpected response. “You’re a good friend of my mother-in-law.” “What?”
“Yes, I married Nancy Young – Imogene’s daughter.” Dear Imogene! She had rescued me again!
All the animals arrived on time. Mary rode the donkey, led by Joseph. The curly-haired goat pranced along secured by a leash in a shepherd’s hand, and the llamas actually looked like camels if you didn’t look too closely!
Was this all coincidence? I don’t think so!
Travel to Bethlehem this Sunday, December 19. At 5:00, meet at the corner nearest you: Mary and Joseph, Brandon and Carter; Shepherds, Windsor and Dudding; Wise Men, Arlington and Windsor. At approximately 5:45 the re-enactment of the story of Jesus’ birth will take place at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church.