Community bonding through Bethlehem and Beyond
by Sherrie Norris
Since Donna Nealy of Boone first revealed her plans for the seasonal ministry in 2010, excitement and participation has continued to grow among families, churches and businesses in the area.
"I feel quite sure that God placed this idea before me about five years ago," Nealy said.
After reading a story about two California women who started a display of nativity sets in area churches -- that rapidly grew into an annual ministry -- Nealy believed that the concept would be well received in Boone. She was right.
In addition to the nativities, Nealy encouraged local churches to incorporate the Bethlehem & Beyond theme into their Christmas celebrations "to reach more people together," she said.
Nealy initially gathered the support of the churches within Three Forks Baptist Association; participation soon expanded to include other denominations.
In addition to the nativities that will be displayed in and outside of homes and businesses across the county, the project will once again spread into Boone Mall where choral groups will perform and art from its popular contest will be displayed.
"We are very grateful to the mall and especially to general manager, Meredith Golden, for allowing us to have access to the mall again this year. This allows us to have a central location with enough room for our choirs to provide caroling for two hours each Friday and for the work of our participating artists to be displayed during the entire Christmas season," she said. "We are also blessed that local artist, Kyle Keeter, has agreed to direct the contest."
The nativity tour will be held at the Three Forks Association headquarters, where dozens of loaned nativity sets will be on display.
"From the beginning, I believed that this ministry would grow each year and not only bring glory to God in telling the great good news of Christ's coming and the true meaning of Christmas, but also be a blessing to our community," Nealy said. "It's amazing to see the response and to know that so many caring people are interested in seeing this message proclaimed."
She added that the event would not be possible without the ongoing support of many volunteers and the generosity of numerous underwriting sponsors.
A program guide, designed by local graphic artist, Max Smith, is currently being distributed around the High Country and contains detailed information about the "free" Christmas events associated with Bethlehem & Beyond.
"The events are designed purposefully to help you celebrate Christ in Christmas.
After all, he is the very real reason for the season," Nealy said.
"It is our sincere desire and prayer that the High Country community will be blessed by the wonderful events planned during this very special season," she said. "Volunteers have worked passionately and community sponsors have partnered with us to help make it happen. There is no cost to you for any event listed, but we believe there is great value in these experiences. We hope that you will invite someone to attend with you," she said.
An event guide, designed by local graphic design artist Max Smith, is now available throughout the High Country and provides more information about the event.
In addition to Nealy, project director, and Smith, who is also the assistant director, the following individuals are a part of the 2012 Bethlehem & Beyond team: Barry Nealy, Diane Turner, Debbie McKinney, Christy Smith, Diane Brown, Kristina Norris and Kyle Keeter.
For more information, visit http://www.bethlehemandbeyond.com.