Kathie Mogish says Tamara Hammond has the role of First Baptist Church’s Nativity angel for many Christmases to come.
“I was outside a few years ago and a family drove through and I heard a little boy say, ‘Look Momma, it’s a real angel,’ ” said Mogish, the event’s director. “So he was convinced it was the real thing. So I told Tamara, ‘You’ve got the job for life.’ ”
Mogish said Hammond looked very much the part again last week, when she smiled down on Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus for three nights as the church presented the Nativity story for the 11th year.
The Rev. David Walker, the church’s director of Christian education, is the coordinator for the program.
Many of the other characters rotated, and many played their roles all three nights. “We have people playing the parts they played the very first year,” Mogish said.
The 2011 pageant marked the event’s return after a one-year break. Bethlehem census-taker Al Laman counted 498 visitors Tuesday evening, 540 Wednesday evening and 727 Thursday. “Looking back to previous years, that was pretty good,” Mogish said. “I think our having been away for a year was helpful, and we had a lot of people who came through and told us how much they missed it last year.”
The historical perspective began with Isaiah’s prophecy, continued into Roman times, followed Mary and Joseph’s path into Bethlehem, with the Wise Men observing the stars, and closed with the infant Jesus attended by an angel as shepherds watched their flocks.
Most visitors watched from cars; a few followed the procession on foot.
Paige Boutwell, the set director, also is on staff at the church. Mogish said she joined Boutwell in touring the scenes during the pageant. They rode a golf cart this year, Mogish said. “I’m not quite as young as I was a couple Christmases ago,” Mogish said.
“We would periodically ride around just to make sure everything was going OK,” Mogish said. “Sometimes we talk with people who are not at the moment in front of a scene, and it’s just something I enjoy doing.
“We had a lot of comments, too, about the animals. We had a lot of interesting animals. The third night, we actually had chickens in the village.”
The sheep, Nubian goats, llamas, donkeys and chickens were courtesy of Randy Cliatt of Wysteria Hill Plantation in Appling.
“We have always had live animals in the scenes, and this year we had a lot of authenticity,” Mogish said. “One donkey in the scenes was pretty loud.”
While many constants will carry forward to the 12th season, the First Baptist Nativity will continue to grow, she said. She predicted next year’s pageant will be held on the corresponding week, just before the Thomson and Briarwood winter breaks.
The 2012 edition will feature an all-new Bethlehem village scene, she said.
Construction manager Buddy Randolph agreed that the pageant and its scenery have changed over the years. “The first year it was just cardboard on the warehouse,” he said.
More durable scenery has been constructed, but even those wooden backgrounds have their lifespan, Mogish said.
“If you could see pictures of the first year or two of Nativity, you could see how it’s grown, how the church has added to it,” she said.
She said the wooden scenery all has to be stored in the upper level of the church warehouse and has to be raised and lowered by scissor lift. “It gets pretty ragged around the edges,” Mogish said of the wooden scenery.
The scenes could be more authentic, she said. “So next year we’re going to completely re-create the village area,” Mogish said.
“And at some point we would like to make the village part of a walk-through, so people would actually walk through the village and talk with the people who are at work,” Mogish said. So more village vendors and craftsmen are expected next year.
“That’s the dream part of it,” Mogish said. “We will have a new village next year, but the walk-through might be another year.”
As usual, there was no charge to the public, but occasionally someone insists on making a donation, she said. “It just goes back into the Nativity, but we don’t solicit donations because that’s not our purpose.
“First Baptist makes this a gift to the community. We are always mindful that it’s our responsibility to tell this story of the birth of Jesus. Every night before we go out, as we gather in the fellowship hall, we remind them that on any given night someone may be coming through seeing and hearing this story of the birth of Jesus for the first time. And a life could be changed. Not that we’re changing a life, but that we’re telling the story.
“Probably the majority of the people that come through do know the story, but it’s so important to be reminded of how important this story really is.”
The church provided traffic control for the lines of cars that formed at the Goody’s parking lot. Church volunteers delivered hot chocolate to those waiting in their cars. The interim pastor, Dr. Leonard Dupree, welcomed visitors as they approached the first re-enactment.
Inside the church, Beverly Guy coordinated a carry-in meal for all the volunteers. Church members also provided the food. “We have a lot of church members who are not actually able to participate in the Nativity itself, the building or the performing,” Mogish said. “This is very much a church family effort all around.
“This is a happy event,” she said. “This is an exhausting event.”