Why do we celebrate Christmas?
by Sherrie Norris
The upcoming drive-through nativity at Poplar Grove Baptist Church will do the same for those who hunger and thirst for the real meaning of Christmas -- and life, in general.
As a unique outreach to its community, now in its seventh year, the drive-through nativity provides a simple, but profound, way for its church family to share the story of Christ's birth.
Guests are able to experience the re-enactment of the one true Christmas story from the comfort of their vehicles during the entire presentation.
Passengers of each vehicle are greeted at the beginning of the tour with hot apple cider and cookies. A CD or cassette tape, whichever is required, is also given to the occupants, that, when inserted into the vehicle's audio device, narrates the story as the vehicle makes its way around the church.
Guests are treated to seven scenes, from the first of welcoming carolers to that of two teenagers preparing for Christmas -- with one learning the true meaning of the celebration.
Each scene is decorated and lit with people at each stop, who are, in some way, portraying the Christmas story, as it is narrated by the two teens.
The idea for the live, drive-through nativity was conceived, said church spokesperson Lori Townsend Sutherland, when the congregation began discussing how to involve more of the church in the annual Christmas program.
For years, Sutherland said, the church had presented the traditional Christmas play, involving children and youth.
"That was great," she said, "but generally, we didn't have many visitors, other than the immediate family of the children."
The church set twofold goals, she said.
"First, we wanted to involve more of the congregation in the program -- and we have since discovered that even adults love to be in a Christmas program."
Secondly, she said, making it more of an outreach to the community was an important step.
"As we kept discussing possibilities, it became apparent that we needed to go outside the church walls," Sutherland said. "Some people are just not comfortable coming into a church, especially one where they've never been before and where they don't know anyone."
Expanding on the idea of keeping people in their comfort zone, she said, the program coordinators determined the program needed to take place outside, and then, the idea was shared that it would be even easier for guests if they never had to leave their vehicles.
"We are blessed with the perfect location and property to allow visitors to remain in their vehicles and drive around while we are outside performing the Christmas program. It works beautifully for everyone involved," she said.
The program scenery changes each year, she said, with active church leader Pat Dalton writing and directing the program.
About 65 people take an active part, from building the scenes, to working in the nursery, building props and preparing meals for the cast before each presentation.
As soon as one year's event is complete, Sutherland said, Dalton begins working on the next.
"As a congregation, our work really starts around the first of October each year, as we begin volunteering for our roles, building scenes, recording the narration and copying the CDs and cassette tapes, working on costumes and decorating the church," she said.
The responses to the live nativity have been amazing.
"We have had people come from all over North Carolina. Many ask in advance when we are doing it again, so they can plan their weekend in the mountains around it."
Hundreds of cars come each year to the little white church on the hill that stands as a beacon in its community, in more ways than one.
"We usually have about 150 to 200 vehicles each evening," Sutherland said. "Some of those are cars packed with people and some are vans loaded with people of all ages."
Only once since it started has the event been cancelled. "And that was when the roads were just too bad to have anyone driving to the church or into the parking lot, she said.
"Otherwise, we brave the elements, whether snow, rain or just cold weather," Sutherland said.With costume fittings and scene setups complete, the coming week will find the church members working together on final touches.
"Each family in the church is asked to bake and individually wrap cookies for our guests," she said. "Then, Ms. Viola Greene starts making her delicious apple cider. The congregation meets each evening of the event at 5 p.m. to eat together, have a time of prayer and start getting into costume."
"It's a ministry that involves everyone in the church," she said, "and allows every person to play a pivotal part in sharing the Christmas story and touching hundreds of lives each year."
But, Sutherland said, "We are the ones that receive the greatest blessing. We have a lot of fun and spend quality time with each other. We get to see so many families start off the holiday with a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas."
Sutherland expressed her appreciation to the new church pastor, Chuck Campbell, for sharing their vision.
"He was new to the idea of what we're doing, but he is so supportive and excited about what this brings to our community," she said.
The live drive-through nativity will be presented from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1.
The event is free and is underwritten by the congregation of Poplar Grove Baptist Church. The church is located at 1228 Poplar Grove Road South in Boone. From Boone, proceed south on N.C. 105 toward Foscoe; turn left onto Poplar Grove Road South (at the Tomato Shack). The church is one mile on the right.
For more information, visit http://www.poplargrovebaptistchurch.com or call (828) 963-9390; leave a message and someone will return your call.