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The Rev. Patty Walker started planning for Christmas in the summer.

She had a sneaking suspicion COVID-19 would decimate the traditional, in-person Christmas Eve service held at the Prairie Campus of First United Methodist Church.

Prior to the pandemic, the church rented Banning Lewis Prep Academy for worship service on Sunday mornings. Since May, however, drive-in services have been held.

But, for Christmas Eve, that didn’t feel right to Walker.

“What is meaningful to people on Christmas Eve? Hearing the Christmas story,” she said. “A lot of times people love pageants and lit candles and singing ‘Silent Night’ with the lights down.”

Walker decided to do all of those things, but to do them outdoors. The church will offer “Journey to the Manger,” a free, walk-through Nativity scene Dec. 23-24 in the parking lot of the prep academy.

Visitors will be able to stroll through scenes populated by actors and narrators who have starred in shows by First Company, the resident theater company at First United Methodist Church, along with congregants who expressed an interest in performing.

The walk-through begins with the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary her conception of Christ. Visitors then will travel to Bethlehem, moving through a field with shepherds and angels, and arrive at the stable scene with Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus and live farm animals provided by Wishing Star Farm. They’ll be given a candle in the final scene and the church’s music director, Justin Anderson, will play guitar and sing “Silent Night.”

“They’ll have that moment where they get to stare at the scene in the manger and the birth of Jesus,” Walker said. “Hopefully, in the moment they can get still and feel the celebration of the birth of Christ.”

Visitor entries will be timed so registration (, masks and distancing are required. Should there be inclement weather, the walk-through will transition to a drive-through.

The event also will feature a petting zoo, a Christmas crafts station with packets to take home, and a Holy Communion station with a disposable packet of a single serving of juice and wafer.

“I really want this to be an outreach to the community, a gift,” Walker said.

“In these hard, dark times, they have a moment where they can experience mystery, awe and the joy of Christ’s birth. More than ever, we need Christmas this year.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

This content was originally published here.