By Johnny Jackson
Lance Cpl. Collin Baxter, a U.S. Marine, starred in the role of Joseph during the live nativity reenactment at the Jodeco Road United Methodist Church in Stockbridge.
The 21-year-old is part of the annual attempt to spread the religious meaning of Christmas, devoid of commercialism.
Baxter was one of about 50 church members cast in the Fourth Annual Live Nativity.
An estimated 1,000 visitors visited the holiday observance recently. The total is up from 700 visitors in 2007.
"I think it's a wonderful outreach for our children," said Gene Sheffield, senior pastor at the church. "It's a wonderful family time."
Church members annually spend two hours per week working on the live production of the story of the birth of Christ. The presentation consists of four scenes associated with the birth.
Those in character interacted and spoke with visitors along a candle-lit path that flows from one scene to another.
Tam Sherry, creator, organizer and director of the annual production, said along the 20-minute tour of scenes, visitors are allowed to become part of the story itself.
"Our goal is to reach people," said Sherry.
As one group of visitors entered the tour, another saw Baxter, as
Joseph, near the manger of baby Jesus. Mary, played by 14-year-old Natalie Powell, was there holding her newborn baby son as a tear forms in one visitor's eye.
It happens, according to Sherry, that people will become emotional, touched, and inspired by the retelling of the holiest of nights.
"It's wonderful; you get the real life feeling of it," said Karen Parrott, a church member who helps guide the visitors through the Live Nativity.
"In making people a part of it, we touch people." Sherry said. "And for being a small church (about 300 members) with limited funds, it's been a really big bonding experience for our members."
Gene Rewdin, a church member, who plays an inn keeper, along with his wife, Martha, said he looks forward to the production each year.
"It's always a lot of work beforehand," Rewdin said. "But it's been a lot of fun."
Others just seem to enjoy the ambiance.
"I like walking around in the grass, and seeing the lights in the bags," said Cole Sherry, Sherry's, seven-year-old grandson. "It's Jesus' birthday, and we follow Jesus' rules."
On the net:
Jodeco Road United Methodist Church: www.jodecoroadumc.org