After Pandemic Hiatus, Journey to Bethlehem Returns to Spokane
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News story by Nina Culver
In past years, people have come by the thousands to see a live action performance of Journey to Bethlehem on Spokane’s South Hill and organizers are hoping that people return this year after a two-year hiatus forced by the pandemic.
Journey to Bethlehem is always held the first weekend of December at the South Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church at 57th Avenue and Freya Street. Though the annual free performances are hosted by the church, the over 100 actors that participate come from eight different denominations.
“It’s put on as a gift to the community by the Spokane Seventh-day Adventist Church,” said event volunteer Darin Patzer. “It is something that the church pays for as outreach.”
The performances started about 15 years ago, said Patzer. It and its sister Easter performance, Journey to the Cross, were created by the Rev. Davie Livermore before he came to Spokane. He and his wife wrote the script that is still in use today.
“It’s actually a walk-through experience,” Patzer said. “It’s different than the plays you would see at Christmas or Easter time.”
The performance has expanded over the years, he said.
“It’s just gotten bigger,” he said. “The sets have gotten bigger.”
Though the performance spans only one weekend, work on the production starts during the summer. Actors are assigned their parts and animals are located that can be used during the production. There are usually goats, donkeys, sheep and other animals, but Patzer said there has been difficulty finding a camel this year.
“It’s a few months prep for one weekend,” he said. “It’s a lot of work.”
Many of the actors return year after year, though they sometimes fill different roles.
“I’ve been everything from the tour guide to the MC,” Patzer said. “This year I’m the self-righteous Pharisee.”
Journey to Bethlehem will run from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, and from 4 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4. No tickets or reservations are required.
Patzer said that between 1,000 and 2,000 people usually visit each night. People will have to wait outside in line before being let into the church sanctuary for a musical performance. From there people are released in groups every few minutes for the 20 to 25 minute walking tour of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. It’s important to dress warmly for the experience, Patzer said.
As people make their way through the village, complete with Roman guards, they’ll end up at a manger marked by a star suspended 80 feet in the air by a crane. Refreshments will be available after the tour.
“It’s a pretty fun Christmas experience,” Patzer said.
Parking is available at the Seventh-day Adventist Church at 57th and Freya. Overflow parking will be available across Freya at the Followers Church.
Nina Culver is a freelance journalist and North Idaho native who has called Spokane home for the last 30 years. She started working at The Spokesman-Review in 1995 as a work study intern while still a journalism student at Gonzaga University and stuck around for the next 22 years, covering everything from religion to crime. She has an adult daughter and two grandsons who keep her hopping and if she has any free time she likes to read.