Live nativity in Clayton takes guests back to Bethlehem

Thelma Knight, 94, left, portrays an angel as Bruce Allen as Joseph and Megan Reed as Mary during live nativity dress rehearsal at Ewell’s – St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Clayton on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

CLAYTON — Freezing temperatures don’t seem to bother Thelma Knight and Eleanor Moore, who joke that they have 182 years of experience combined when it comes to dealing with cold weather.

Ms. Knight, 94 years old, and Ms. Moore, 88, will take turns portraying an angel alongside shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in Ewell’s-St. Paul United Methodist Church’s production of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” a live nativity scene at the church on the corner of West Street and Clayton Avenue in Clayton.

There will be two more free live-nativity experiences at Ewell’s-St. Paul United Methodist Church at 401 West St. in Clayton from 6 until 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday. Temperatures are expected to be near freezing or below both nights.

“I like what it represents and why we’re doing this project and how we could help others,” Ms. Knight said. “Our church motto is that we’re looking and being a part of the people here in little tiny Clayton.

“It gets a little chilly out here at night sometimes, but I’ve been able to work through it. I’ve got the practice of weather for 94 years and that weather changes and you get used to it.”

Around 40 participants showed up for rehearsal on Wednesday night before opening the stirring production on Thursday.

Ms. Knight and Ms. Moore both say it is worth it just seeing the reactions of the visitors who come to see the manger scene of Jesus’ birth. It warms their hearts and stirs their souls.

“I’m also in the choir and in the bells,” Ms. Moore said. “I enjoy the fellowship. I really like the people. My only problem is that I like to talk, but you’re not allowed to talk when you’re in the manger.

“We really do look forward to this and getting together with everybody.”

Jo Ellyn Beck serves as the director of the live nativity scene but said she has lots of other volunteers who pitch in to make her job much easier.

While the production is free, donations are accepted, and this year’s proceeds will go to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, who will send the money to the wildfire victims in California.

Thelma Knight, 94 will portray an angel during live nativity on Friday and Saturday at Ewell’s – St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Clayton during rehearsal on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Ms. Beck said this is the fifth year her church will put on the live nativity, which also features live animals from Party Animals in Sudlersville, Maryland.

“We do have a lot of people who return,” she said. “There are a lot of people who this is their fifth year and many people are new to the church, so this is their first time.

“We also have other people who help behind the scenes. We have people who make the cookies, people who serve the hot chocolate, guys that build the tents … so it’s an outreach for the whole church.”

Ms. Beck said the live nativity scene is much more than just a quick sneak peak into the manger scene. Actually, the entire production can take between 20 and 30 minutes to experience.

“The people enter Bethlehem from the parking lot and they’ll meet a guide who will separate them into groups of 10,” said Ms. Beck. “Each person gets their taxes, so they each get a little coin, then they are ushered over to where the innkeepers have the servants serving the people that are coming into Bethlehem some hot chocolate and cookies.

“Then they take the path and they will be going past some merchants. We’ll have a toymaker, and she will be handing out dreidels, and teaching the children how to play dreidels because that’s what they did in Bethlehem.

“We have a tailor who’s been making costumes and the tunics for the people of Bethlehem. We’ll also have a basket weaver and on Saturday night we’ll have a blacksmith.”

The children will especially enjoy the next stop of the tour, as they will be allowed to pet the live animals who will be watched over by some shepherds near a large fire.

“After they’ll pay the tax to the tax collector, who will then take the census,” Ms. Beck said. “Then they will kind of wait until we get a small group together and they meet the innkeeper and his wife, who tell the story of what’s been going on at their inn.

“Then they’ll go around the building and they’ll see the nativity, where there will be live animals, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, a live baby Jesus, and then we’ll have a harpist angel, who will play. Everybody sings “Silent Night” and then they leave and can go up into our chapel to meditate or pray.”

Megan Reed will be portraying Mary and Bruce Allen will play Joseph.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Ms. Reed said. “I’ve heard it’s done really well over the past few years and I even saw a few pictures online.

“It seems like it’s a really big thing that people like to come out and see, so it should be a really good turnout.”

The flyer for the event calls the production, “A special gift to our community.”

It reads, “Mary and Joseph have traveled a great distance by donkey to reach Bethlehem. There was no room for them in the inn, so the innkeeper let them stay in his stable with the animals. It is in this stable that the Christ Child, Jesus, has been born! Come and visit them in the stable! You will be blessed!”

Ms. Knight certainly has some history with the church that is putting on the production. In fact, she went to Sunday School at St. Paul’s and her late husband went to Ewell’s before the churches joined together.

When asked how long she will continue to portray an angel in the live nativity, she smiled and said, “I’ll go for another five years.

“When I know that somebody else has been talking to the Lord, I know then that we’re in good hands.”

Ms. Beck said, “There’s no doubt about it, we have two very special angels.”

Not to mention one very important baby.

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