return to_Bethlehem_1MADISONVILLE, KY (12/8/12) – Tomorrow will mark the beginning of the 17th annual Return to Bethlehem (RTB) event at First Baptist Church in Madisonville. Donna McMurtrie, Chair of the RTB committee, spoke with SurfKY News today, providing information and history of the event.

“It’s an interpretation of what the city of Bethlehem would have been like on the night Christ was born,” McMurtrie said. There will be a recreation of the city, with 25 shops where the shopkeepers, played by volunteers, will be hard at work crafting their wares.

“At that time, the homes were two stories,” she explained. “The people lived upstairs, and they kept the animals downstairs. That’s basically what people are doing in their shops. They’re selling their wares. There’s pottery, blacksmithing, and carpentry. They’re dying cloth. They’re baking bread. There’s a stone carver. We actually have a fish market with real fish. We have a tanning shop where they tan hides. The shops are a method of interacting with the people, but our main story is that they’ve heard that a baby was born that night.”

McMurtrie said that 500 church members are involved in the effort, including the cast of characters inside city and staff in sanctuary, who will be giving the cast their biblical names and sending them on to orientation where they will learn their roles and what to expect playing the part of shopkeepers, beggars, and other characters from Bethlehem on the night Christ was born.

There is no cost to attend, but beggars will collect donations, which will go to the cost of the event. McMurtrie said that, after 17 years, First Baptist has organizing RTB down to a science, and it only costs the church about $4,000 to put on the event.

“The majority of that is for the animals that we have,” she said. Those who have attended RTB expect to see the menagerie, including the camels that are a favorite of visitors annually. The animals are provided by Jeff Baird of Morganfield, KY. He creates stall in the church’s bus barn to house the camels, and the rest of the animals stay in the city all weekend. “He tends to them every day … but we begin to smell very authentic by Tuesday,” she laughed.

RTB will run from December 8th to the 11th. On Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, the hours are from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. On Sunday, it will be open for two hours from 2:00 to 4:00 PM. Groups of 20 may call and make reservations so they don’t have to wait as long.

“Sometimes the wait can be two hours or more, but we have entertainment going constantly in the sanctuary, so people don’t seem to mind to wait.” She said that community members will be singing and playing piano and there will even be a string quartet pacifying the waiting throngs.

McMurtrie encourages visitors to not wait until the last day, Tuesday, to come to RTB if at all possible, as that seems to be the day with the largest crowds. The busiest year for RTB drew 9,000 visitors, and the event usually averages about 7,500 over the four days it’s held.

“That’s about all we can get through,” McMurtrie said. “We try not to crowd it, and we want them to take their time when they go through the city to absorb it.”

return to_Bethlehem_2Casey Piscitelli
SurfKY News

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