Journey to Bethlehem: Live drive-thru nativity spreads Christmas message

Members of First United Methodist Church in Morehead City portray townspeople in Nazareth during the live nativity, Journey to Bethlehem, presented Monday night. (Cheryl Burke photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — From a Bethlehem innkeeper turning away Mary and Joseph because of no vacancies, to wise men traveling afar, members of First United Methodist Church presented a live drive-thru nativity Monday night that spanned two blocks.

Journey to Bethlehem included eight vignettes depicting the story of the birth of Jesus, starting with three scenes in the church’s parking lot on Bridges Street. Those scenes included townspeople in Nazareth greeting travelers, an angel visiting Mary and an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream.

Vehicles, guided by volunteers and luminaries marking the path, then traveled up 9th Street for three more scenes, including the Roman census, Joseph and Mary being turned away from the inn and angels announcing the birth of Christ.

Vehicles then turned right on Arendell Street and entered the church’s front parking lot, where they were greeted by wise men traveling to find Jesus. It ended with Mary and Joseph adoring their son in a manger. Live animals, including sheep and a donkey, stood vigil near the manger.

First United Methodist Church associate pastor, the Rev. Sarah Williams, estimated that 100 vehicles drove through the live event, presented by about 60 church members of all ages.

“For the first hour I was stationed at the end of the route and I was humbled by the positive feedback we got from each car,” she said Tuesday morning. “I think the people who came were blessed.”

She also thanked members of the congregation who persevered through two previous cancellations of the performance due to inclement weather.

“Last year we tried to do this and had to cancel because of a major storm,” she said.

The church was originally scheduled to present the nativity Sunday night, and once again had to cancel and reschedule until Monday night.

“So many people came by to help with set up and take down and all of the people who were in the cast did an amazing job,” she said. “Our design team truly made it feel like you were in the story as you drove through. We have talented and amazing people in our congregation.”

Rev. Williams said the church decided to present a drive-thru nativity to provide a safe outdoor environment for those uncomfortable with coming inside of a church. She also wanted to offer a way to keep church members involved in activities.

“This is our way of providing another worship opportunity for our community,” she said.

Church member Elise Gay, who portrayed one of the townspeople in Nazareth, agreed it was a way to reach out to people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are doing this for our community, especially for those struggling during COVID,” Ms. Gay said.

Michelle Lindsay, who portrayed an angel visiting Joseph in a dream, said, “I’m doing this because this is the most important story ever told.”

Jenn White, who portrayed Mary being turned away from the Bethlehem inn as she is about to give birth, said she was humbled to be asked to portray Mary.

“Having given birth myself, the thought of Mary being turned away right before giving birth blows my mind,” she said.

Ms. White added that she enjoyed participating in the live nativity.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” she said. “It’s a joy seeing the people drive by enjoying the Christmas spirit.”

Vicki Daniels of Morehead City was among those who drove through Journey to Bethlehem.

“I’m a church member here and these people have worked so hard putting this together,” she said. “It’s important for people to get the full meaning of Christmas.”

Rev. Williams said she wasn’t yet sure if the church will present the event next year.

“We would love the opportunity to grow and improve this event but we will have to prayerfully discern how God is calling us to serve next year and see what our calendar looks like,” she said.


Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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