“We have changed the dates for Back to Bethlehem tours due to the weather and will hold them from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday nights,” said Andy Hadley, worship pastor for Cropwell Baptist Church.
Hadley said the church hosts the tours free of charge. The event is open to all ages.
“We want everyone to have a chance to experience this,” he said. “So we will update people on our website at www.cropwellbaptist.org and on our Facebook page should anything change again.”
Hadley said Back to Bethlehem is a production he did in his previous church in Mississippi, before bringing it to Alabama when he moved here in 2003.
“I think we had our first Back to Bethlehem around 2004,” he said. “This is our sixth time to do it in the past 10 years. We do it a couple years in a row, then skip a year to give everyone a break.”
Hadley said Back to Bethlehem takes about a month to construct.
“We build it around the church parking lot and buildings,” he said. “When you arrive, you register and wait inside. Small groups are taken outside to the gate to the city, where they are guided by a costumed Bethlehem resident. They treat it as if you had just arrived in Bethlehem at the time Jesus was born.”
Hadley said there are different scenes in the city — people selling wares in a marketplace, women at the well, a synagogue with a rabbi, blacksmiths and carpenters, live animals — everyday city life in Bethlehem.
“This year we have 160 volunteers in costume, which is the most we’ve ever had in costume by about 30 or 40 people,” he said. “There are about 50 more volunteers who help with building sets, registering people, childcare and other tasks.”
Hadley said while touring Bethlehem, visitors get to see the shepherds and hear their story, see the innkeeper and witness a live nativity at the end.
“We didn’t do this last year, but in 2011 we had about 1,200 people in three nights,” he said.
Hadley said while tours start at 6 p.m. each night, people can arrive as early as 5 p.m.
“The tours take about 20 minutes, and the wait times vary by crowd size,” he said. “The average wait time is about 30 minutes, but can vary.”
Hadley said waiting visitors are given a handout with information about the event and historical information about the scenes.
“We have free coffee, hot chocolate and Kool-Aid,” he said. “And we have some entertainment while you wait as well.”
Hadley said there are about 10 or 11 guides, so multiple groups can tour the city at once.
“We don’t speed the tour up,” he said. “Each tour lasts about the same amount of time, depending on which guide you get. You can visit the city multiple times with different guides and get a slightly different experience each time.”
Hadley said it is a walking tour that is handicapped accessible and is all on one level.
“We ask that crowds of 20 or more people please call 205-338-7995 and make reservations, so we can help keep things flowing smoothly,” he said.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.