The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'Birth of Christ' comes alive

Wisconsin congregation re-creates Bethlehem

Nick Betlach, 11, doesn’t normally steal things, but the member of English Lutheran, La Crosse, Wis., feels ready for his role as a young thief in the church’s 2008 production of the “Bethlehem Event.” And if he needs advice on techniques, he can ask his older brother, Jack, who played a thief in 2004.

John Zoerb<BR><BR>Paula and Tim Betlach
Paula and Tim Betlach with son, Nick, run a brass and copper shop for the 2004 Bethlehem Event at English Lutheran Church, La Crosse, Wis. The event involves about 300 parishioners and friends. The Betlachs have also hosted the leather shop and bakery. This year they’ll sell lamps.
“It’s fun. I always look forward to [the event],” said Jack, 14, who is donning a helmet, armor, shield and spear this year for his role as a Roman soldier. “I like how it kind of brings the community together to see what Christmas is about. When I was younger, it really did that.”

Nick also sees that the performances go beyond play-acting. “People get to learn about what happened and about Jesus and where he was born,” he said.

The Bethlehem Event, held this year on Dec. 20-21, usually draws 6,000 to 7,000 visitors. Started in the late 1970s, the production is so labor intensive that it’s staged only every three or four years. The massive indoor production re-creates the sights, sounds and smells of the ancient city with life-size buildings.

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