With some plywood and paint, music and costumes, a few wandering animals, and lots of creativity, the sleek and modern Westgate Chapel is being transformed into an ancient Israeli town -- the one where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago.
"The Bethlehem Experience," a free interactive journey geared for families, will be presented from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Friday at the church, 2500 Wilford Dr., in Sylvania Township.
Visitors will see a pregnant Mary and Joseph, leading a donkey, walking the halls. A marketplace will be filled with the sights, smells, and sounds of old Bethlehem, including crowded shops, Roman centurions, tax collectors, and beggars, according to the Rev. Rob Zimmermann, Westgate's high school ministries pastor.
"Our desire as a church is to really reach out to the community as a whole," Mr. Zimmermann said.
There will be a series of live Nativity scenes telling the Christmas story, with visitors free to explore the displays at their own pace using a pamphlet as a guide.
The cast will include 100 costumed actors, including numerous Marys and Josephs presenting different chapters in the Christmas story, he said. There also will be live sheep, goats, chickens, and camels.
This is the first time Westgate is hosting the holiday event, but Mr. Zimmermann said the goal is for the interactive experience to become an annual tradition.
Westgate is one of several area churches that are bringing ancient Bethlehem back to life.
This will be the fourth year that Hope Lutheran Church, 2201 Secor Rd., presents "A Night in Bethlehem," an event that continues to grow each time. It features live animals, a stable, a synagogue, a bustling marketplace, and educational lectures.
"The main focus is the message of Christmas and the gift of Jesus," said Diane Barnes, Hope's director of student ministries.
The church will host the event, free and open to the public, from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Talks will be given both days by Jerry Anderson, WTOL-TV news co-anchor, on 2011 events in the Middle East, at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., and by Henry Langknecht on Jesus' daily life as a craftsman, at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.
River of Life Community Church, 136 Tecumseh St., Dundee, Mich., is re-creating Bethlehem for the first time this holiday season. The church will hold "A Night in Bethlehem," from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, during which guests can visit the home of a first-century Jewish family, witness live Nativity scenes, and hear the woman at the well tell her story, as recorded in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4.