An idea, which began as part of the launch of a new church in rural Grove, has grown into a two-night presentation of the Christmas story.

From 5 to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1 and 2, volunteers from Foundation Free Will Baptist will present the living nativity presentation at the church located at approximately two miles north of Sail Boat Bridge, on Highway 59, just past the Delaware/Ottawa County line. 

The event, is free and open to the general public. The living nativity is a combination of indoors and outdoor areas. Participants will travel a lighted gravel walkway for the 15 to 20 minute experience.

For those needing assistance, golf carts will be available for transportation through the route, which includes a variety of live characters and animals. 

The tour will end with free refreshments and warm drinks inside the church's fellowship hall. 

How it began

Sam Smith, pastor of Foundation Free Will Baptist, jokes that the nativity wasn't initially on his list of things to accomplish as he and others began planting the church 10 years ago.

During the early weeks, groups of volunteers from other Free Will Baptist churches within the area came to help assist with remodeling the church's facilities and canvasing the neighborhoods to let people know about the church start.

Smith said a group of volunteers from a friend's small group approached him about putting on a living nativity, as their gift to the new church.

"So we set a date and started preparing," Smith said. "They were going to provide the actors and costumes, we would provide the food and the location.

"As we prepared, his volunteers began to drop out."

Smith jokes the first year was rough, but members of the new congregation loved the idea behind the performance.

Gift to the community

Now in its 10th year, the nativity has expanded not only in the number of nights it is presented, but also in the size and scope of the event.

Last year volunteers worked to clear land behind to the church to create a gravel walkway, which was then filled with a variety of stations - each designed to tell a portion of the Christmas story.

Smith said members of the congregation, regardless of age, participates in some form or fashion.

"There are folks that dress up, help with parking, make food, sing, serve refreshments, keep the fires going, pray with guests or guide guests through the tour," Smith said. "It's almost 100 percent participation of our church to put this on every year, and they love it."

Smith said the work that goes into the living nativity is worth it.

"I love it being a niche for our church," Smith said. "We have become 'that church with the living nativity'.

"I also love it when our folks come together for this event. I just love to watch the faces of visitors who see the story of Christmas come alive."

Smith jokes the congregation is also known for the food, which is provided to guests throughout both nights.

"I hope that people who come will receive a warm welcome, find great Christmas entertainment and lots of great homemade refreshments," Smith said. "I also hope they take time to soak in a short walk, back in time to the town of Bethlehem, and interact with the characters who will tell the story of the first Christmas."

Live animals set to be part of the event include sheep, goats, donkeys, horses and even a live camel.

Smith said he has one goal for the event.

"I want people to remember what Christmas is about," Smith said. "The true gift of Christmas is God's son. 

"We see people touched every year [by the story]. Some even make a commitment to God that night."

Goldie the Mascot

For the last few weeks, Smith has been traveling around the Grove and Grand Lake area promoting the living nativity with "Goldie the Camel." 

Goldie, who began life as a Joe Camel story display, also served as a Frito Lay ambassador before ending up in storage at a Tulsa church.

A few years ago, Goldie found a new home in Grove. This month, Goldie and Smith have traveled everywhere from the city's jail, to the library, to draw attention to the event.

Photos of Goldie's adventures have been posted to the church's Facebook page 

"I get a lot of strange looks carrying Goldie around in the back of my truck," Smith said. "Getting Goldie in the hospital is always a challenge, because the elevator is kind of small."

If You Go

The 10th Annual Living Nativity at Foundation Free Will Baptist Church will take place from 5 to 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1 and Sunday, Dec. 2, at Foundation Free Will Baptist Church.

For more information, persons interested may call the church office at 918-787-8950.