By DENISE HERSCHEL
With Christmas commercialism at an all-time high, there is a Neptune church that has dedicated itself to showing the “real reason for the season” for the past five years. West Grove United Methodist Church is once again presenting “The Streets of Bethlehem and Live Nativity” to the local community as visitors of Bethlehem are allowed to experience the “sounds, sights, and excitement” of that first night.
The event runs Sat., Dec. 9 and Sun., Dec. 10 from 6 to 8 p.m.
“Each year, West Grove UMC transforms it’s Fellowship Hall and church grounds into a re-creation of the streets of Bethlehem on the night Jesus Christ was born,” said Lois Hart, an eight-year church member who portrays a spice merchant at the event.” The most important aspect of the presentation is to remind or even introduce people to the true meaning of Christmas which is often forgotten and lost in our commercialized culture.”
This is the fifth year that “Streets” is being held with last year’s attendance at more than 400 people. The event is free and open to the public.
“All of our characters are fully costumed and engage visitors in conversation. People can interact with others milling the busy streets such as the census taker, the money changer, and the Roman soldiers. Many costumes were created by UMC members for past live Nativities. It required many additional costumes which were designed by team members according to the clothes of that time period,” said Judy Bennett, an eight-year church member who has portrayed the fishmonger for the past five years.
Those who ‘walk the Streets’ witness market vendors such as the potter, the basket weaver, the yarn dryer and weaver, the baker, the fishmonger, and the cheese maker who encourage the visitors to buy their exotic wares with the Roman coins received when they first enter Bethlehem. Many of the market vendors demonstrate their skills and visitors can sample a variety of food from that time period such as olives, dates, figs, cheese, honey, hummus, and bread. This year camel and King silhouettes have joined the Nativity display as well as a vineyard being added to the marketplace.
The project is a big undertaking by church members who in addition to attending workshops also begin the construction of props, costumes, and gifts several weeks before the event.
Ocean Township resident and church member Irene Roake, said this is her fifth year participating with her role this weekend as “the cheese lady.”
“In the past I have been the beekeeper and have sold olive oil. I like to research my role to give people the authenticity of that time period. I enjoy participating because I find it to be spiritual. It shows what the true meaning of Christmas is; it’s not about the purchasing of gifts but the birth of Jesus Christ,” she said.
Neptune resident and church member Sue Giambalvo, added that she enjoys helping with creating the costumes and is always happy when the community comes out to “walk the Streets.”
“I think the public really likes to see what the time period was like during the days of Christ. It’s a spiritual journey for many who come,” she said.
Bennett believes that the success of “Streets” is due to the team effort by both West Grove UMC and Memorial UMC in Neptune City, friends of the church and volunteers.
West Grove United Methodist Church is located at 102 Walnut Street (corner of Route 33) in Neptune. For more information call the church office at 732-774-6748.