Mainstreams: Zimmerman church makes Bethlehem come alive

by Nate Gotlieb

Contributing Writer

Joey Kirk and Tyler Alderman milled grains and oats Saturday night in the corner of Bethlehem, hawking their products to visitors in the city where Jesus was born.

“You can feed them to the llamas and the chickens, but just don’t feed them to yourself,” Alderman yelled to the passersby.

Photos by Nate Gotlieb Wise man Bill Ruschmeier shows Aiden Scheel, 4, and his sister Alexa, 7, the star of Bethlehem on Saturday at St. John Lutheran Church’s outdoor Nativity scene. Hundreds attended the scene within an hour of its opening.
Photos by Nate Gotlieb
Wise man Bill Ruschmeier shows Aiden Scheel, 4, and his sister Alexa, 7, the star of Bethlehem on Saturday at St. John Lutheran Church’s outdoor Nativity scene. Hundreds attended the scene within an hour of its opening.

He and Kirk went by the biblical names of Jeremiah and Joseph, selling their grains for two coins and their oats for one.

The two youngsters were among the nearly 100 actors who helped recreate the ancient city at St. John Lutheran Church’s live outdoor Nativity scene last weekend. Attendees traveled to Bethlehem, met the biblical wise men, or Magi, and saw a musical re-enactment of Herod the Great ordering the Massacre of the Innocents.

The church has hosted the Nativity scene for the past four years to remind people of the meaning of Christmas, the Rev. Thomas Koelln said.

“It’s meant to be kind of a proclamation of who Jesus was,” he said.

Congregant Barry Bluhm approached Koelln about hosting the scene in the summer of 2012. Koelln said he was thinking the church would host something smaller, but Bluhm wanted a more elaborate scene.

Joey Kirk and Tyler Alderman mill grains and oats Saturday at St. John Lutheran Church’s outdoor Nativity scene.
Joey Kirk and Tyler Alderman mill grains and oats Saturday at St. John Lutheran Church’s outdoor Nativity scene.

Attendance has grown each year, from 600 in 2012 to about 1,000 last year. Koelln said Saturday he expected to surpass that this year.

More than 100 people were lined up outside the scene’s entrance as the church prepared to open it at 6 p.m. Saturday. Church members handed out hot chocolate, cider and coffee to visitors, all of whom appeared impressed with the scene.

“The production work that they’ve done is just amazing,” said Hellen Ferguson, of Minneapolis. “It’s very well done.”

Visitors began their tour by walking through the Magi’s tent, where the wise men were dressed in colorful robes. The wise men showed people the star of Bethlehem through a telescope if they were interested.

Then visitors walked into the city of Bethlehem, where actors sold grains, breads and pelts that visitors could buy with their coins.

City residents walked around with donkeys and llamas, and Roman soldiers patrolled the streets on horses, sending unfortunate souls to the local jail.

The visitors ended their tour with the musical re-enactment of Herod the Great’s massacre orders.

Bluhm, who owns a production company, said he works on the scene all year. The congregation began setting it up after Thanksgiving, he said.

He said he appreciates any opportunity he has to tell the story of Jesus to the public, adding that the church has been blessed by the weather this year.

Many of his actors appeared to agree about both statements.

“The story of Christmas isn’t that familiar to people anymore,” said a Roman solider. “It gives them a chance to see it.”