Live Nativity at Tunnel UMC

Live nativities provide more context to the biblical story of Christmas.

“I think you really feel it in your heart, you’re more a part of the story when you watch and interact with a live nativity rather than just reading it in scripture,” said Amy Peckens, 69, of Warren Township.

And Pecken’s home church, Tunnel United Methodist, is for the sixth year putting on a unique drive-thru experience of the live nativity this Saturday.

The experience is free and open to the public, available at the church located behind the Warren Volunteer Fire Department at Ohio 550 and Coffman Road.

“When I came up with this the reason we made it where you can stay in your car is so the handicapped and elderly or even anyone in bad weather can still come and hear the true story of Christmas,” explained Director of Youth Myla Mitchem, noting many parishioners of the church are elderly but wanted to have an opportunity to experience the story. “The characters come up to your window as you move from scene to scene throughout our parking lot and you get to stay warm as the kids explain the parts of the Christmas story.”

Mitchem said each year the nativity project has grown, though it’s always put on by the church’s youth.

“But our first year we didn’t even have the stable and it poured down rain,” she said. “Now this year we’ve grown from that to having live animals from a petting zoo, we have a stable, clear pens, the shepherds even have real sheep.”

And the new addition this year will include the only adult role in the five to 10-minute experience for each vehicle.

“It used to be I’d just thank people for coming as they pulled in and I’d direct them to the stable, but now I’m the innkeeper at the entrance,” Mitchem explained. “And I’ll explain how there’s no room in my inn, why Mary and Joseph and all families had to come to Bethlehem this time of year and how I just let this young couple stay in my stable for the night.”

Then those driving through will get to experience youth from the church walking up to their windows explaining Mary and Joseph’s roles in the birth of Christ, how the shepherds learned of his birth through an angel and learn when and why wise men of the east, reportedly Palestine, came to pay tribute.

“It’s just amazing to see the real story,” said Faith Weyant, 17, of Tunnel, who has participated in the production every year since its inception. “I’ve played Mary, an angel, a shepherd and a wise woman before, and I’m playing a wise woman again this year.”

And besides getting to be around llamas, which are her favorite part of the whole production, Weyant said she’s excited to see friends from Warren High School come through the nativity.

“We have many live animals all in pens for the experience,” explained Mitchem. “Though I’ve never been able to get a hold of camels, there are llamas, sheep, baby goats and calves and they’re set up throughout the whole parking lot.”

Mitchem said the church is even providing attendees with a laminated bookmark relaying the story of Christmas from the Gospel of Luke.

“That’s also new this year,” she said.