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Judy, a 1,400-pound camel, will be part of 'Journey to Beth-lehem' today at First Baptist Church of Decatur.
Courtesy photo
Judy, a 1,400-pound camel, will be part of "Journey to Beth-lehem" today at First Baptist Church of Decatur.

Upstaging Santa
Churches putting brighter
spotlight on Christ child

By Melanie B. Smith· 340-2468

Judy the Camel will journey from afar to Decatur today.

The 7-foot, 1,400-pound dromedary camel is coming from Blount County to First Baptist Church for — what else? — a Nativity program.

Organizer Cathy Strom said Judy and about 14 other animals lined up are a "wow" factor to help draw children to the manger and the Christ child.

'Tis the season to tell the story of Jesus.

Parents and church workers say it seems more and more difficult to get the real message of Christmas across to little ones.

They are working harder to nudge Santa out of the limelight.

First Baptist's "Journey to Bethlehem" event today, 5 to 8 p.m., is targeting young children because Christmas is "out of whack" for them, even those regularly in church, said Strom, director of preschool ministries.

"I knew that the way Santa is commercialized today, what we planned had to be big," she said.

That explains the animals, the 100 volunteers and the expense of more than $2,500.

Strom said she doesn't want to take Santa away from children but to create balance.

"On December 26th when you ask them about Christmas, I want them to remember the baby in the manger, that it is real," Strom said.

Experiencing the story

She said she came up with the idea of a "journey" to emphasize the whole biblical story, not just the nativity scene.

The event will have six settings, several of them outside. Viewers will follow guides from one to another. Actors will tell part of the story in seven-minute vignettes.

The scenes start with angels appearing to Mary and Joseph and their travel to Bethlehem. Shepherds sing around a campfire, a host of angels praise God, wise men arrive following a star and everyone worships Jesus in the manger.

At last year's version, children wanted only to pet the animals, not listen to the story, Strom said. She decided to wrap the evening up with a petting zoo.

Sheep, a donkey, some pygmy goats and other animals will travel with Judy the Camel from T & N Acres Zoo in Locust Fork. Nan Fallin, co-owner, said the animals are used to doing such events and the farm is USDA licensed.

Strom hopes children will experience the nativity in a powerful way from the up-close, intimate approach.

"The best way to teach children is with interaction," she said.

Brian Taylor works with two of his three sons - a somewhat reluctant Carson, 3, left, and Chase, 5 - at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church's Advent workshop.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Brian Taylor works with two of his three sons - a somewhat reluctant Carson, 3, left, and Chase, 5 - at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church's Advent workshop.
Doing Advent

At Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, an Advent workshop helped about 50 children and parents focus on Jesus' birth. Advent is the traditional church season to prepare for the Nativity.

Brian and Alice Taylor took their sons, ages 2, 3 and 5, to make crafts, bake cookies for the elderly, learn about Christ's coming and attend a Lessons and Carols service.

Brian Taylor said that his boys are too young to understand much, but they can be exposed to the meaning of Christmas. Christ's birth gets "overwhelmed and overcome" by the commercial side of the holiday, he said.

Cathy Strickland, director of children's ministries at Wesley, said that the annual Advent workshop helps the church teach the real reason for the season, so children won't think it's all about them.

‘Journey to Bethlehem’

When: Today, 5 to 8 p.m.

Where: First Baptist Church of Decatur’s Recreation Outreach Center

Who: Preschoolers and their families.

How: Groups of about 40 will go through six scenes. Tours take about one hour. Youth choirs will perform in a bistro setting at the starting location.

  • Other up-close Nativity scenes and storytelling include a Family Christmas Festival at Moulton Baptist Church, today and Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m., and a Living Nativity in the God’s Garage building at Austinville Church of God from Dec. 17-19.

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