First Posted: 11/28/2014
CLARKS GREEN — A blanket of snow covered the ground around the empty nativity scene under a wooden “Welcome to Bethlehem” sign across from Clarks Green Assembly of God (CGAG) on Friday morning, Nov. 28.
Inside the church, volunteers worked to decorate Christmas trees and hang wreathes and garland in the basement fellowship hall. There was no mistaking the atmosphere of excitement, as a group of children rummaged through a pile of ornaments, each practically the size of their heads, with which to adorn a large tree almost touching the high ceiling in one corner of the room.
That same room, as well as the nativity scene outdoors, will again fill with excitement, on Dec. 19, 2- and 21 during “Our Gift and His Presence,” an enhanced outdoor nativity with live animals and performers.
The 17th annual event is free of charge and includes five performances: 7 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Homemade cookies and warm beverages, also free, will be available in the fellowship hall by the fireplace following each performance.
Sherri Taylor, of Scott Township, and Suzette Cardamone, of Madison Township, hospitality volunteers for the event, said there will be dozens of varieties of homemade treats, hot cider, hot chocolate and coffee. They expect nearly 3,000 cookies to be consumed over the three days.
Taylor said their aim for the decor is to provide an atmosphere that is “festive, but interactive, so people are socializing and make connections with people.”
Joan Layland, of Clarks Summit, director of the production, said the cast includes about 35 people from CGAG, as well as a small group from Parker Hill Community Church. Overall, including those volunteering “behind the scenes,” approximately 50 people are working to make the event happen.
“They’re doing great,” Layland said. “We’ve only had one one major rehearsal so far, and it was above what I thought they’d do with one rehearsal.”
Describing the yearly atmosphere of the event, she said, “I think there is an excitement. It’s a lot of work, and they put a lot into it.”
One cast member, Julia Taylor, of Scott Township, will perform as a dancing angel. Now 15, she began studying dance at age 5 and participated in several CGAG live nativity events in past years. Her favorite part of the event is “seeing the happiness on people’s faces as they watch.”
“I like how people are learning about the birth of Jesus,” she added, “and everything that goes along with that.”
CGAG Pastor Dan Miller said this is what the event, as well as the entire Christmas season, is all about – “God’s greatest gift.”
“People come and receive the gift,” he said. “It’s not about Clarks Green Assembly of God, it’s about the kingdom of God.”
Before his recent move to Clarks Green, Miller pastored Back Mountain Harvest Assembly in Trucksville, where “The Gift,” a similar production is presented each year, drawing in thousands of people. He described the musical drama as “one step away from Broadway – a very well put-together telling of the greatest story ever.”
He said the Clarks Green event is similar, yet on a smaller scale, and he hopes five years from now, it will be just as large.
Several improvements are already added to this year’s event, one of which is the location change. Previously held at the top of a small slope in front of the church building, the nativity is now located on the lawn between two houses across from the church parking lot. Miller and Taylor said this provides a larger and flatter area to work with, as well as a safer distance from the busy South Abington Road.
Another improvement made is in the format of the story. Previously told primarily through narration, the event is now more of a performance with lines from a script. A shortened version of the sound track used in “The Gift” will also be incorporated into the Clarks Green show.
The message, however, remains the same.
“God is to be glorified in all of this,” Taylor said.