For more than a decade, St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Martinsburg has given visitors an opportunity to step into the time and places surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.
Jane Fagans, chairperson of the church's worship and music committee, said the Journey to Bethlehem event was first held in 1995 and has been presented every alternating year since then.
"It's a walk through the Christmas story," she said. "At the beginning, there's a monologue from St. Lucia and St. Nicholas."
(Courtesy photo) In the Nativity scene at the last Journey to Bethlehem, Katie Freyer played Mary and Matthew Freyer played Joseph. The angels are Rebecca Moore (left) and Olivia Day. Matthew Knauss is the shepherd.
Fagans said shepherds guide visitors through various stations, including ones at which the angel Gabriel talks about delivering his messages to Mary and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary express their feelings, and the innkeeper recounts turning Mary and Joseph away.
At other stations, a centurion explains the tax, King Herod exhibits disdain and the wise men describe their experiences following the star.
The journey concludes with a visit to the stable for the Nativity scene.
If you go
What: Journey to Bethlehem
When: 4:30 to 7:30 Sunday and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 115 E. Penn St., Martinsburg
Cost: Free, offerings and nonperishable food
donations will benefit Martinsburg Food Pantry.
"It takes about 25 minutes to walk through," Fagans said of the 11 scenes depicted in the church and Sunday school annex.
She said 45 members of St. Matthew's put on the program with the work beginning in October.
"Everybody has a great time participating," she said. "We have people from ages 9 to 80 taking part in it. Some people have been doing their parts since 1995."
One such person is Fred Kensinger, a church member for the past 70 years. Kensinger was originally chosen to be King Herod because of his deep voice.
"I only missed one year," he said. "I'm grouchy old Herod."
Kensinger said his character is sitting on a red velvet throne reading his paper when the shepherd guides the visitors to his station. His response to news of a new king being born is to say that his king is Caesar, and Rome is controlled by the Roman army. This is done while conveying the attitude that he would rather not be bothered at all, Kensinger said.
"People usually get sort of scared, you know," Kensinger said, referring to his grouchy demeanor. "It teaches them a lesson about how things were in the Roman days."
The Rev. Scott Schul, pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, called the presentation St. Matthew's Christmas gift to the community.
"Hundreds of people will come through here to hear the Christmas story and interact with the characters," he said.
"You hear people complaining that there is so much commercialism in Christmas. This is a chance to remind ourselves of the great gift Christmas is to us - the gift of a Savior," Schul said
The Rev. Tim Knauss, former pastor of St. Matthew's and currently a parishioner there, said the "Journey to Bethlehem" gives visitors an opportunity to hear the story of Jesus' birth in a new and different way.
"As we get busier and busier, the idea of telling the story of God's love for us through Christ is very important," he said.
Journey to Bethlehem will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Refreshments will be available.
The event is free, but the church is accepting donations of non-perishable food items and an offering to benefit the Martinsburg Food Pantry.