Live nativity set for Saturday at Tunnel United Methodist Church

Photo submitted by Amy Peckens Those involved in a previous live nativity at Tunnel United Methodist Church pose for a picture. This year’s nativity will be open from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

TUNNEL — Last year, Warren High School student Faith Weyant got the ultimate Christmas-time role.

The teen portrayed Mary in the live nativity at Tunnel United Methodist Church, her third time in the production.

It was a bright spot in an event that she said really celebrates the season.

“It really shows the true meaning of Christmas,” said Weyant, now 16 and a junior. “It’s all about Jesus, not Santa Claus and other things.”

This year, in the church’s fourth annual live nativity, Weyant will play a shepherd. The nativity will be open from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Washington County church.

The idea for the holiday event originated in a church youth group meeting, said Myla Mitchem, youth director.

“Christmas was coming and everyone said they wished there more things people could drive through because a lot of the elderly can’t get out and walk and see everything,” she said. “We wanted live animals and a lot of interaction.”

The event has plenty of both, with Pampered Pets Petting Farm providing animals, including goats, sheep and cattle.

As those attending drive through, the actors in the nativity scene come to their vehicle and share their stories.

“At each stop they get to meet someone,” said Mitchem. “The first stop is the stable, which is beautiful and handmade, and Mary and Joseph walk to the window and tell their part of the story. Then they came to the shepherds and the angel that appeared to them.”

The organizers try to make the re-telling as accurate as possible, she said.

“We have the wise men and they explain that they really weren’t at the birth and that they met Jesus when he was 2,” Mitchem said. “We give people the true story, even though the Christmas cards always show them at the nativity.”

Costumes are true to the time period, and the sets carefully made to resemble a star-lit night.

“When people come, their faces are awed and I see smiles as well on the little kids’ faces,” said Weyant.

New to the event this year will be homemade Christmas cards made by the church’s five youth groups, even those as young as 3. Drivers will get a card at the end of the tour as they stop at the Mail from Bethlehem booth.

Mitchem said the number of those attending has grown every year, with about 135 people viewing the nativity last year. People offer donations but the church won’t accept them, insisting on a free event.

“It’s just nice because they can stay in the heat in their car and stay warm no matter what the weather is,” she said. “We try to make it eye-catching and authentic and the kids enjoy seeing the animals.”

There’s only been one challenge in organizing the festivities, Mitchem said.

“I can’t find a camel,” she said, laughing. ‘We have alpacas coming but no camel.”