Oh Come All ye Faithful, along on a theatrical journey through Bethlehem as a new faith-filled family tradition, begins in Ooltewah Dec. 7, 8 and 9 from 6-8 p.m., sponsored by the Chattanooga Tennessee Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“You expect to walk into a church… and you do but after you leave the chapel . . . your journey begins and you enter this ancient city [Bethlehem], you get to meet ancient prophets… angels and shepherds,” said volunteer, Jabus Braxton. “We are transforming the [building] into something you won’t believe until you see… you will feel like you are in a different place.”
Journey to the Christ Child: A Live Nativity is a free event where guests are escorted on a tour through a life-sized re-enacted village of Bethlehem, interacting with several familiar personages from the Biblical Nativity as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
“There is an anticipation that [builds] as you go along the journey and meet all these people… shepherds, the Innkeeper… to see Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child—and the spirit is—wow! This quiet, peaceful reminder [of the Savior] is so powerful. You see families bringing their children and grandchildren and just this light that glows in them after seeing this,” Mr. Braxton said.
“The feelings in that room [manger scene] are just—remarkable,” said the Church’s local director of cultural affairs, Jenna MacKay. “It’s really an intimate experience.”
The event has been put on for several years with hundreds of attendees and a multitude of volunteers, including Mr. Braxton and Ms. MacKay, at the Church of Jesus Christ’s Signal Mountain chapel. But this year the Chattanooga stake, a geographic subdivision of the Church consisting of thirteen congregations across the greater Chattanooga metropolitan region, wanted to share the sacred wonder of the Nativity on a larger scale with all of Hamilton County and North Georgia.
“We want [friends and neighbors] from the [surrounding communities] to feel the Savior’s love and slow down a little bit… to remember the reason for the season. It is something a lot of us have in common… we want to share and worship together as Christians,” Ms. MacKay said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are Baptist, Episcopalian, Nazarene, etcetera, or if you are a person that doesn’t have a faith at all—this is an invitation to just walk up and see what it’s all about,” said Mr. Braxton.
In addition to the Nativity re-enactment, guests will be treated to a nightly musical ensemble featuring traditional Christmas hymns and classic carols as they wait for their guided tour to begin.
“The first thing you will hear is live Christmas music. There is something about a live performance that brings an immediacy to what is being done,” said musical director Bonnie Gee, “to welcome all, and prepare hearts and minds to feel love for and worship the Savior.”
The Chattanooga Tennessee Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ has partnered with other local musicians and denominations to help set the tone and create a beautiful harmony musically, both within hearts and within the greater community.
“The goal of this undertaking is just like the Savior said in the scriptures—‘that none of you should go away, but [ ] that ye should come unto me [Christ], that ye might feel and see’—to invite all to come to know Jesus Christ. It is He who unifies us—He makes all things possible,” said Jason Isaacson, president of the Chattanooga Tennessee Stake for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Organizers say this event will require the manpower of upwards of 150 people, with much of the work behind the scenes; but event organizers feel they aren’t doing this alone.
"We’ve been working on this since June,” said Mr. Braxton, “and as the little problems come as they do, it seems that they are easily taken care of— so many times someone stepped up, a phone call was made, etc., everything just happened divinely.”
At the conclusion of the guided journey, guests will arrive to a re-creation of an outdoor market complete with tents, a photo opportunity and free light refreshments keeping in theme with the immersive experience they had just completed. Most of all, organizers hope guests go home a little different than when they arrived.
“I remember first watching it [the re-enactment of the Nativity] when I was a kid and then later participating in it. It made me really think about what happened that first Christmas Night and it just gave me that peace that I knew the Savior was there for me and that He is there for everyone else as well,” said President Isaacson.
"What an incredible opportunity for our children and families to see, feel and be reminded in a very special way that it is only through the gift of The Christ that we can be saved,” said Chris Beckstrand, communications director for the Chattanooga stake. “I’m looking forward to attending with my friends from the community that share our same love for the Savior!”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does a yearly global outreach during the Christmas Season called Light the World which encourages individuals and groups to serve others. Volunteer Hilarie Robison said, “This live production is our contribution to add more light to our community.”
Journey to the Christ Child: A Live Nativity is a free, three-night event open to the public, Dec. 7, 8 and 9. Free parking is available at the church building: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3067 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, Ooltewah, TN, 37363. Tours will run from 6-8 p.m. for each of the nights. The church building is handicap accessible. Spanish-speaking translators will be present at the event. Tours will mostly consist of groups of 10, with efforts made to keep families and church groups intact. For the most up-to-date event information, visit the Chattanooga stake’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/chattlatterdaysaints. For other requests or inquiries, email Corina A. Lopes, firstname.lastname@example.org.