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Live nativity scenes prepare community for Christmas

East Newton Baptist Church presents a live Nativity scene which features a Christmas drama and live animals
 Covington First United Methodist Church members, from left, Alan and Susan Fowler play Joseph and Mary in the church's live nativity scene.
 Covington First United Methodist Church members, from left, Johnny Cleveland and Perry Haymore play shepherds in the church's live nativity scene. 

East Newton Baptist Church presents a live Nativity scene which features a Christmas drama and live animals Covington First United Methodist Church members, from left, Alan and Susan Fowler play Joseph and Mary in the church's live nativity scene. Covington First United Methodist Church members, from left, Johnny Cleveland and Perry Haymore play shepherds in the church's live nativity scene. 

Explore the meaning of Christmas a little deeper this year by attending one of the outdoor Nativity events taking place in Newton County. Covington First United Methodist Church and East Newton Baptist Church will both offer free outdoor nativities this season.

This is the fifth year East Newton Baptist has presented its live Nativity drama in the amphitheter on the church property at the corner of Highways 278 and 142 in Covington. Each program is 25 to 30 minutes in length and features actors, live animals and special music.

"It's evolved in the last five years to be more of a drama," East Newton's Pastor Tom Lee said. "We have a cast of 15 people and start with Isaiah coming out and giving the prophecy... From that point, Mary and Joseph come through the crowd. Mary is on horseback."

The drama continues with the innkeeper, shepherds, angels, wisemen and live music, including a soloist singing "O Holy Night." Scott Palma, who is in the role of Joseph, also provides the animals for the program which features a horse, donkey, sheep and goats.

"We had checked on a camel, but found it would be $6,000, so we said we can do without a camel," Lee said. "We could probably find a cow here and there."

The pastor said the church and community always look forward to the live nativity and recalls a letter the church received from a grandmother who brought her grandchildren to see the drama who thanking the church for presenting the gospel story.

"This is something God has blessed," Lee said. "This is our Christmas gift to the community. It's what the real meaning of Christmas is all about. John 3:16 sums it up: 'He gave his only begotten son...'"

Several years ago a local Eagle Scout built the church's amphitheater as a project and today those attending the live nativity can sit on the wooden benches he built. The pastor advises everyone to dress warmly for the outdoor event.

The church has put a large star high up in the trees as part of the upcoming drama and the pastor said many people have enjoyed seeing it shining at night. East Newton Baptist's live nativity program will be Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 18 to 20, at 7 and 7:45 each evening.

The pastor said guests are also invited to enjoy free hot chocolate, gingerbread cookies and candy canes. The church is located at 11290 U.S. Highway 278, with the church driveway actually off Highway 142.

Covington First UMC, which is off the square in Covington, debuted this year's Nativity scene last month during the tree lighting festivities at the courthouse and will again present the scene Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 19 and 20, prior to the community's "O'Come, Y'all to Covington" program. The Nativity can be seen those two days next week from 5:45 to 7 p.m.

In addition, the live nativity can also be viewed Christmas eve at 5 and 9 p.m.

Church members attired in costumes will portray Mary and Joseph and the others present that night in Bethlehem in a still-life scene with Christmas music playing in the background and periodic readings of the Christmas story.

"People in the community love it," Covington First UMC's Claudia Minge said. "The children are mesmerized by it."

Minge said Heartland Art Gallery in Covington did the cut-out animals for Covington First UMC's nativity scene several years ago. There are eight characters portrayed in the nativity and Minge said church members enjoy taking turns in the roles.

"Different people in the church are the eight characters each time and they feel a sense of camaraderie with the group" Minge said. "Our people look forward to doing this each year and they have a good time. People come to see this year after year."

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, email Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.