The first time Darren Johnson volunteered to be a part of a Center Grove area church’s now-annual tradition, a few dozen people showed up.
But this year, when Johnson plays his role as a wise man or Joseph along with 15 other volunteers in the live Nativity scene at Honey Creek United Methodist Church, he expects hundreds of visitors.
When the live Nativity scene debuted five years ago, he saw a good opportunity to do something for the community during the holidays, Johnson said.
“This is a really good way to immerse yourself into the Christmas spirit,” Johnson said. “Each December, people in the community make this a part of their schedules. I like to get the community involved, and each year we’re seeing more people come along with repeat visitors.”
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When Don Bunch, the event’s creator, thought up the idea about six years ago, it fizzled out and nothing came of it. The next year, he worked harder to make the live Nativity scene happen, including building a stable, Bunch said.
Bunch worked with fellow church members who volunteered time and reached out to the community for help. The live Nativity scene needed straw, hay and live animals, for example.
Fellow church member Don Sprinkle assists in providing the animals, reaching out to local farmers who could lend the church donkeys, sheep, goats and horses.
Bunch brings his generator to run lighting and a heater in the stable, so the event doesn’t have to rely on the church as a power source. The costumes are made of old curtains and bed sheets. The goal has always been to have everything donated, Bunch said.
“This is one of those things that you think about and then it comes to fruition, it’s heartwarming,” Bunch said. “Many have never seen a live Nativity scene. It’s good for your soul. It has been good for my soul.”
Despite having about 80 people who attend the church on an average Sunday, the first year, about 30 people showed up, Bunch said. As the word spread heading into the second year, the church had as many as 100 show up.
Motorists passing by slowed down, turned around and came back. The church got a spotlight members would point toward the North Star. Two years ago, a couple had just gotten off Interstate 65 in Greenwood and noticed the spotlight and followed it to the church, Bunch said.
The past two years, about 300 people have come to the live Nativity scene, Bunch said.
Repeat visitors have become a large part of the crowd in the past two years. Parents and grandparents bring their children, making the Nativity scene a family tradition. Last year, three children came with their parents and stood near the stable, petting the animals. As the crowd looked on, the children began to retell the story of Jesus’ birth to their parents, Bunch said.
“You can really watch the crowd and see what you’re doing for people,” Bunch said. “I want to see this continue. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger each year. People appreciate this.”
What: Live Nativity scene
Who: Honey Creek United Methodist Church
Where: 2722 S. Honey Creek Road, Greenwood
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday