Hundreds of people this month journeyed to Church of the Good Shepherd in Maitland to “Follow the Star,’ a live nativity scene that has earned this parish some special praise for its recognition of the birth of Christ.
For the fourth consecutive year, the live nativity was a huge success, drawing approximately 400 to 500 people from all over Central Florida and beyond, according to the Rev. Cameron MacMillan, assistant to the rector at Church of the Good Shepherd. The event, which allows participants to travel through nine expertly crafted scenes that culminate at the manger scene with Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, ran from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10, on the seven-acre campus.
“It was received very well,” MacMillan said. “We offered ‘detours’ into the historic 1883 chapel, and a lot of people were really blown away by the beauty and sacredness of this space.”
Good Shepherd parishioner Bobbi Vogel, whose recurring dream inspired the formation of the event, said a high percentage of the guests were repeat visitors. “We would love for families, especially those with children and the elderly to add the GS (Good Shepherd) Nativity to their list of family traditions,” she said. “But quite honestly, we are not about numbers, but we want guests who are moved to attend and are blessed by the experience of witnessing The Baby among us. If we share the birth of Jesus with just one person seeking a savior, we know the time and effort has been well spent. The volunteers and our entire church family are blessed beyond description!”
To help spread out the crowds, MacMillan said the event was broken up into three pilgrimages: 6:30, 7 and 7:30 p.m. The first journey drew the most walkers, “but many stayed through most of the time enjoying music and cookies in the parish hall at the end of the journey,” she said.
Following the walk, participants were asked to provide feedback, which helps organizers plan for next year’s event. Previous feedback prompted organizers to make several changes this year, Vogel said.
“We kept all nine scenes and Bible verses from the third year, but we enhanced the props and backdrops on scene 3: Joseph visited by an angel in a dream; scene 6: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the angel at the outside altar; and scene 7: the shepherds are visited by an angel,” Vogel said. “We wanted Joseph and his donkey to be more visual to the audience and angel to appear as if in a cloud. We stripped down the altar scene, and it was spectacular. A very, very emotionally moving scene. (In) scene 7, the shepherd scene was enhanced with a ‘lean-to’ with a small fire added, a few live sheep to mingle with the nine sheep from the Holy Land Experience, and the angel appearing as if in a cloud.”
Vogel and MacMillan said more than 100 actors, volunteers and organizers put together the event, which included approximately 34 thespians at the sets and roaming at the reception. Full Sail College Lighting and Visual Arts Department students and their teachers served as event partners. “We could not provide the quality lighting of our sets without them,” Vogel said. “These students and their teachers are absolutely incredible: knowledgeable, hard workers and ready to help way beyond the lighting needs.”
MacMillan said their hard work really paid off with the ninth and final scene, the manger scene under the star which drew a lot of praise from onlookers. Mary and Joseph, with a live baby and many live animals, are joined by an angel and the shepherds, who upon finding the child, stand in awe of this miracle, which is God coming to dwell among us as a newborn babe, according to Vogel.
“We had a “real” baby Jesus, who, thankfully, slept the entire time!” MacMillan said. “And, some real animals from a farm. People like to take pictures with the animals in this scene.”
Vogel concurred with MacMillan in that the ninth scene was the highlight of the evening. “We had a beautiful newborn little boy and his mama and daddy as Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus,” Vogel said. “Several shepherds, and of course, an angel surrounded the baby. Live animals provided by a Volusia County 4-H Club included a cow, several sheep, several goats, a donkey and her baby, and chickens. The actors sat on bales of hay, and the scene did look like a stable in biblical times. I noticed that our guests remain at this scene the longest. There is a lot to see and a lot to emotionally take in. I personally was brought to tears as I read the Bible verse and transported myself back in time. I love this scene.”
People who “Follow the Star” travel at their own pace in the outdoor event. Additionally, those who took the journey were treated to a performance by the Seminole High School Gospel Choir from Sanford in the parish hall, where thousands of homemade Christmas cookies and punch were served. The group consisted of 30-plus singers, a keyboard, drums and guitar, Vogel said. Gospel and Christmas songs were performed from 6:50 to 8:10 p.m.
“Some guests spent the entire evening listening to the music, while others sat a few minutes then exited,” Vogel said. “The reception, called ‘The AfterGlow,’ is meant to be a reflective time, so any kind of pause from the business of the day is a plus. We always get compliments from the entertainment.”
The event was so well-received that Church of the Good Shepherd rector, the Rev. Sarah Bronos, shared an email from a visitor to the church’s website:
“We visited your live nativity on December 10. It was a wonderful presentation of a wonderful event. The fellowship was evident and the efforts of planning and organization to pull it off successfully were apparent as well. Well done!! The choir and cookies were icing on the cake. Thank you to all who worked so hard to put this on.”
Vogel said Good Shepherd organizers were thankful for the many contributors: “We cannot thank Full Sail College Lighting Department enough. They are terrific partners. We consider the Volusia County 4-H Club a partner. Their animals are simply gorgeous, and the students and their 4-H leaders are so very positive. We love working with them. Celandine School worked with us this year by providing student and teacher actors. The school and our church are partners every day at Good Shepherd. And of course our leader, Rev Sarah Bronos, and the entire Steering Committee who gave of themselves so willingly.
“I honestly know that our church family has bought into the Live Nativity mission: to share the birth of baby Jesus with the community in the hopes that the love and joy of The Baby dwelling among us highlights their Christmas and that someone looking for a savior finds comfort in the Live Nativity,” Vogel said. “Every year, more and more people step up accepting responsibility for an area and filling in a need, often with ideas we hadn’t even thought about. We are blessed!”