By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — The Advent and Christmas season spurs many area churches to share their faith with the community, reaching across denominations and beliefs to present a variety of public programs.
Performances, singing, a madrigal dinner, live nativities and recreating life 2,000 years ago are some of the outreach activities.
No matter the format, the vision is sharing the Christmas story.
"It's our gift to the community," said Sandy Scarbrough, coordinator of the Taste of Bethlehem at First Christian Church in Traverse City, which in 2010 drew 2,000 attendees.
The 2012 event this Friday and Saturday is the eighth time the church has transformed their Great Room into the Biblical village, complete with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of life from two millennia ago. Volunteers from the church — whose 100-member congregation all help in some way — and community participate as musicians, singers, food vendors, shepherds, storytellers and crafters.
A live nativity scene honors life at the time of Christ's birth.
"I took our pamphlets to nursing homes, Goodwill, the Salvation Army and a lot of churches," Scarbrough said of the church's outreach efforts for Taste of Bethlehem. "And the unchurched, it's so important to reach out to them."
New Hope Community Church this year is offering The Christmas Journey, transforming a small wood behind their worship building to tell the story of Jesus' birth. Guided tours begin with a hay ride from the parking lot to the main building. Tours will be held the evenings of November 30 and December 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9.
After visiting a creation scene and temple inside, visitors go outside and begin a walking tour. A winding path takes them from the prophets through Bethlehem and magi tents, past angels, a shepherd boy, kings and camels and nativity animals. A canopy of lights highlights the tour's end.
About 150 volunteers have helped for months put the ambitious program together. In addition, each night will feature 100 volunteers helping to present The Christmas Journey.
"This is for families or individuals to come and find out the real meaning of Christmas," said Rick Stewart, executive/worship pastor at New Hope Community Church. "Our goal is really to reach the community to experience something they've never experienced before."
Closer to Christmas, Bayview Wesleyan Church will present their live nativity for the 39th year. Nestling a stable, manger and animals next to their downtown church, volunteers take shifts as Biblical characters on the evenings of December 22, 23 and 24.
The Presbyterian Church will offer their 45th annual Madrigal Dinner to the community on December 6 and 7. Presented by the church's deacon board, the event features a medieval feast, a play and singing by the Traverse City Central Choral-Aires and Vocal Majority ensembles.
"It's a community effort to try and bring people into the church," said Tom Forgie, chairperson of the deacon board.
Another local Christmas tradition in its fourth decade is the Handel's Messiah Sing presented at the Central United Methodist Church. This year's 34th annual sing, scheduled for Sunday, will feature 300-400 singers from the community plus an orchestra of about 25 musicians. Conducted by Byron Hanson, this year's guest soloists are Lynne Church, Wendee Wolf-Schlarf, John Bragle and Robert Peavler.
The Northwestern Michigan College Grand Traverse Chorale and Chamber singers will also participate.
"For many folks it's their kick off to the holiday season," said Jeffrey Cobb, music director at the church. "We try to make it different every year by featuring different solos and sections."