By Dave Jones
Dave Jones retired in 2016 from his position as manager of the Southern States Cooperative’s Roanoke Feed Mill in Vinton. His wife Bonnie is the Youth Director at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church in Vinton.
Bonnie and I grew up in a sleepy little town of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, 15 miles downstream on the Ohio River and to the west of downtown Pittsburgh. The population then was about 9,000.
During our sophomore year of college, my church, Mt. Calvary United Presbyterian Church, started an outdoor live nativity scene. A small shed was built on the finely manicured front lawn facing out to the main west to east street in town. In this “stable” would be assembled a young cow, two sheep and a donkey bearing the Masters Cross. All of these animals would have been “borrowed” from farm relatives of fellow church members.
Being then (in 1970) that I was a city boy who was going to Penn State to become an agricultural business student, it was a natural that I would be the stable guy to “tend” the animals. (Remember this is in the middle of a town that never had anything bigger than a dog on this lawn.)
The other concern was that during the day the animals would get loose and run away. We had no problems, and the live nativity would run for three nights–Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Robed characters would take shifts and stand in that stable to tell the great story of Jesus’s birth. Late Saturday evening all the animals were returned to their farm homes.
My sister tells me that the live nativity scene has just now celebrated fifty year in this strange 2020 year!
Fast forward to 1979 and I had now gone to work for Southern States Cooperative and moved a few times. We had son Mike at this time and Bonnie was pregnant with Megan, and we were looking for a church in the Richmond, Virginia area where we were now located and had found Grove Avenue Baptist Church on the west end of Richmond.
For Christmas we helped build “Bethlehem City” from the four sides of a two-story wooden house in the Short Pump area. We were just ahead of the great build out there in Short Pump and the house needed to go.
All the exterior sides of the house were carefully removed in very large sections and moved to the large parking lot of the church. They were then repositioned to make eight store fronts.
Again, many more robed characters would take shifts and stand around the “city” at their correct places. This village scene was large enough that the cars would drive through the church parking lot to view Bethlehem City including a nativity scene. Huge traffic jams occurred in the Parham Road area where the church was located several blocks from the large Regency Center Shopping Mall.
Bethlehem City was open for several long December weekends for the crowds to see. Shortly thereafter we moved to Baltimore and we lost track of that project. These two fond memories still stick with me today.