It is almost time to taste, smell and hear the real life Bethlehem village at the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church. Pastor Jerrold Paetkau said over 100 volunteers have pitched in their time and effort to create the village that will provide the authentic atmosphere for the annual Bethlehem Walk taking place December 10 to 13.
This year will mark the 19th anniversary of the Bethlehem Walk and Paetkau said while it takes a tremendous amount of work to present the biblical story of Christmas their church members are always willing to come together to make it happen.
“It is our gift to the community and we are happy to do it,” said Paetkau.
The free event includes hot chocolate, cookies and caroling and it is an opportunity to make a donation to the local food bank.
Last year the event generated $14,000 for the Salvation Army and Paetkau said it is great how generous the community is when their annual event rolls around.
“Windsor Plywood and Central Builders gave us deals on building supplies and the City of Parksville donated some paving stones.”
Paetkau said he has ordered the hot chocolate, enough for 10,000 cups and the sweet treats have been donated by Tim Hortons, Tigh-Na-Mara and Eaglecrest Golf Course and Genesis Fire Protection has donated fire extinguishers.
Each year thousands of people flock to the church to experience the sights, sounds and textures of the recreated Bethlehem that includes barn animals, a bustling marketplace, more than 250 people in period costume and of course the famous manger nativity scene.
This year two families are volunteering to take on the starring roles of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The Quist family from Nanaimo as well as the Ryvers family from Parksville will take turns in the manger with their newborns.
Paetkau said the very first baby to take on the role of the baby Jesus at their inaugural Bethlehem Walk is now at University in Toronto studying ballet.
Every year the church adds new attractions to the event and there are two new features in the village this year including a bedouin tent and an aqua-duck park. Paetkau said that individual families will often be responsible for one of the village stalls and with over 250 people volunteering each night of the walk it is a complex execution that involves many hours of people working together before and during the event.
“During the work bees little kids work with older people and they enjoy helping and learning from one another. We have 80 year-olds puttering around. Everyone chips in.”
He said this year his 13-year-old daughter Allison worked with her grandma to sew one of the costumes for the event. He said there are few finishing touches to be done in the village and the animals including sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits and a donkey will arrive on December 8.
The Bethlehem Walk takes place at the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church at 550 Pym Street North from Dec. 10-13, 6 to 8:30 p.m. nightly.