Kingdom: A Community Church brings Bethlehem to life for Christmas
Coronavirus clouds this holiday season won’t stop a Westover church from staging its ambitious depiction of the night a star shone brightly from the heavens for all.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the Rev. Kevin Cain went unclouded into the endeavor of the church’s business of presenting its live nativity this year.
Not with the pandemic and its roiling upsurge of December cases threatening to snuff, altogether, the very glow of the holiday this season.
Cain pastors at Kingdom: A Community Church, the place of worship formerly known as Kingdom Evangelical Methodist Church, at 540 Fairmont Road.
“Community” is an apt word for the church.
Kingdom provides for needy youngsters through its backpack feeding program and offers an array of outreach ministries for people of all ages.
“Ambitious,” though, is a word that might fall short in describing the above-mentioned live nativity, which will be from 6-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the church parking lot, and staged again at those same times on those days next week.
Thank church members Roger and Cara Stanford for that.
They’re the owners of Westover’s Merrywood Lane craft shop. Under their direction, the hammers, saws and nails were put to the cause 11 years ago.
If you’re thinking of a makeshift manager and a handful of hay — think again.
Think Hollywood backdrop, or a very detailed set design for a production on Broadway.
The sets and structures depict everything from an inn to an open-air bakery, in an imagining of the village of Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago at the time of Christ’s birth.
Goats and real-life camels have been part of the proceedings, and there will be a furry presence this year as well, Cain said.
It takes the village of Kingdom: A Community Church, to make this village go.
Congregants walk about in period-correct costumes, which go perfectly with the detailed sets, Cain said.
“Yeah, I’m usually a Roman soldier,” Bill Ponceroff said, on a chilly night of the live nativity three years ago.
“But we already had a couple of those. So, I’m a carpenter. I’ll make you something.”
Bethlehem rule book
Before the pandemic, the display, which doesn’t charge admission, was known to bring in nearly 2,000 visitors from across north-central West Virginia and beyond during its weekend runs.
With COVID-19 comes a new order, Cain said — plus a new addition that couldn’t be more necessary in the present.
“We put in a drive-thru lane,” he said. “If you’d rather not get out of your car.”
Masks are required of everyone going in, and the people portraying the Bethlehem villagers will be wearing them, too.
The construction of the display has also been extended out this year to allow for social distancing, the pastor said, as everything will be gridded out to ensure that 6-foot swath either way.
This year’s villagers are part of the Kingdom family and literal families, too, Cain said.
“Everything is distanced out, in quadrants,” he said.
That means, say, one set of parents and children working the open-air bakery, with another familial unit at the inn or a stable.
“We’re acting in accordance with the governor’s guidelines,” Cain said. “We’re going to do our best to make sure everyone’s safe, if they want to come to the nativity.”
Love and laundry
The pastor, as said, wasn’t sure Bethlehem could be built this year in that parking lot of the low-slung, tan-bricked church in Westover.
The Kingdom family wanted to stage it, though, he said.
So, a pastor observed. He saw what’s been working in terms of crowd management in Monongalia during the pandemic — and what hasn’t been working.
Over the months, Kingdom has been live-streaming its services on Facebook and YouTube.
Doors are always open but attendance is limited for safety. COVD-19 mandates are very much in place.
There won’t be hot chocolate and cookies this year at either weekend of the live nativity, he said.
The traditional dinner for volunteers and cast members has also been scrapped.
All the costumes have been laundered beforehand by congregant Suzi Bragg — “Suzi’s a superstar,” Cain said.
If you’re in the nativity you’ll take your robe home during your two nights, he said.
Then, the costume goes back to Bragg, who will launder, and launder again, for the next round of shows.
Pandemic prayers, and keeping the faith on Facebook
The church has 1,200 congregants registered, the pastor said, and before the pandemic, it was averaging 700 to 800 people for services.
Now, he said, in-person attendance is a fraction of that. A WVU math major who attends mapped the floor of the worship space precisely to accommodate social distancing.
Congregants right now generally look online for services that are streamed over Facebook or YouTube.
Kingdom’s Facebook page this past Easter, Cain said, counted a church population bigger than Bethlehem on the night Christ came into the world, with 11,000 logging on to take in the service, virtually.
Cain, he said, isn’t blinded by the light of heaven during a time on an Earth very much unsettled by the pandemic, politics and social unrest.
He just wants people to feel comfortable and safe, in any environment he might help engineer.
The pastor said he wants everyone to literally keep the faith.
“I think people just need to draw in,” he said. “If we can all hold to the consistency of Christ, we’ll be OK.”