PENDLETON - Just as God gave his only son as a gift of salvation to the humans he created, the congregation of Pendleton Faith Center decided to present a free gift to the community.

Their "gift" is the story of the events leading up to Jesus' birth, his life, death and resurrection to be presented from 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday at Roy Raley Park.

The first hour is reserved for those who want to walk through the scenes. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., cars will be directed into the east entrance to Roy Raley Park. Admission is free and donations will not be accepted.

John Bartron, founding pastor of the Faith Center, said that the nativity began with 10 scenes about 15 years ago while he was pastoring the church. A parishioner brought a story about a drive-through nativity that another church had done.

"We were not a big church at the time and I was not sure what the response would be," he said. "We were overwhelmed with volunteers and a continual stream of cars through the park."

The original 10 scenes began with the angel's proclamation to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Messiah. The other scenes include Caesar's decree that all men had to go the city to register, a Jewish family with all their belongings in a cart traveling, the innkeeper turning Mary and Joseph away, the shepherds watching a flock of sheep, a multitude of angels, Herod's palace with the guards and the wise men who traveled from the east. The final scene was the traditional manger scene.

"It is the traditional story as told in Luke," said Gary James, the project co-ordinator. "Each scene has a lighted billboard with an appropriate scripture. The silence and still figures have a big impact."

Last year the church members decided to add three scenes to tell the rest of the story. The new scenes include three crosses on a hill, the empty tomb and Jesus' return - an event for which Christians still wait.

"The last scenes emphasize that Jesus is a gift that is not done giving," James said. "There is more giving to come. He is the ultimate gift of all time."

More than 100 people volunteer as actors in the still scenes. Animals including llamas, donkeys and sheep require expert handlers, and still sometimes provide memorable antics. Volunteers provide warm food and beverages and special lighting for the scenes. Detailed sets need repair and maintenance, and the volunteers need time to warm up.

Two complete casts, both with costumes, appear for 30 minutes outdoors in the scenes, then take a 30-minute break inside the Helpers' Room at the Round-Up Grounds.

The whole production is set up, presented and taken down in one day. The set crews begin early in the morning and stay until the last piece of the set is put away.

"I do it because it is a way to give to the community without any strings attached," Bartron said. "In the scenes as we watch moms and dads reading scripture and pointing out things, it's very rewarding."

"Dec. 22nd is the latest we have ever done it," said Ray O'Grady, pastor at the Faith Center. "We hope that it will give people a moment's pause in the hectic season and have an impact because of its closeness to Christmas."

Driving through the scenes takes about seven to 10 minutes. Volunteers estimate 7,000-8,000 people will see this year's nativity.


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