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Journey to Bethlehem

By Susan Shinn

Salisbury Post

CHINA GROVE — The weather will be frigid, but the skies in China Grove will be bright this weekend with the light of “Journey to Bethlehem.”

The annual drive-through pageant is set for 6:30-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday at New Hope Presbyterian Church, 602 Stevens St.

The church has been presenting the pageant since 1998, with a one-year break in 2003. The congregation numbers only 75, but volunteers from other local churches come together to present an event that includes more than 110 people.

The pageant has grown to more than two dozen scenes depicting the life of Christ from his birth to his ascension.

Visitors are greeted at the gates of Bethlehem by Roman soldiers on horseback and census takers. They then drive through the church property and view marketplace scenes including a blacksmith shop, pottery makers, basketweavers, women sewing and making breads and stews and fishermen tending their nets.

Visitors will see the angels visiting the shepherds, the inn where there’s no room for Joseph and Mary, the Nativity, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

Officers from the China Grove Police Department will shepherd three lanes of traffic into the church property. The China Grove Fire Department will be on hand as first responders.

“They have been just great,” organizer Bobby Mault says of local emergency services personnel.

Last year, Mault notes that 4,000 people in 1,200 vehicles attended the Journey to Bethlehem. He’s seen cars from Florida, New York and Washington State.

Church members started putting the sets together in October, but planning for the annual event began even earlier.

“We start having our meetings in July to organize ‘Journey to Bethlehem,’ ” Mault says.

Isn’t a Christmas pageant hard to think about in the middle of summertime?

Not at all, Mault says.

“I think of the effect it has on people and it’s worth the effort,” he says. “In a little town, in a little church, in about seven hours, if you can witness to 4,000 people, that is very good.

“It’s our gift to the community.”

Church member Adolphus Castor has participated in the pageant since its inception. He and his wife, Patty, are in charge of two scenes. A retired electrician, Castor installs all of the lighting.

This week, he and his grandsons put up more than 50 light fixtures.

“There’s still a lot of things to do,” he says, “but we’ll be ready.”

Castor is heartened by the positive comments he receives about “Journey to Bethlehem.”

“It’s gotten to be a tradition,” he says.

Castor isn’t too concerned about the weather. He’s got plenty of room under his costume to bundle up.

“I’ll be the fat shepherd,” he says.

For more information about “Journey to Bethlehem,” call New Hope Presbyterian Church at 704-857-3211.

Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or sshinn@salisburypost.com.

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