Roman Centurion Mat Geiger stands guard over Harold and Geraldine Fladager in the Census Taker's Gate House.

Walk back in time to Bethlehem

The annual Bethlehem Walk is a favourite with people in the region

On Dec. 10, the Sooke Baptist Church will take visitors back a couple of millennia when they open their 10th annual Bethlehem Walk.

The inside of the church, at 7110 West Coast Rd, will be transformed into an interactive play with 100 volunteer actors. Guests can walk through the biblical town of Bethlehem and see baby Jesus at the manger, eat smoked salmon at the bakery, and even have their photo taken while wearing ancient headgear.

“It takes about 30 minutes to walk through,” said church pastor and organizer Dwight Geiger. “People don’t have to go sit and watch anything.”

The idea was to move away from the traditional performance format. Geiger said people on average spend anywhere from 30 seconds to one and a half minutes at each of the many booths designed to simulate a busy town bazaar. Some will demand a bit more time from onlookers, like Soleby’s Auction that has comedic items for sale like Goliath’s giant fork and spoon.

There is a short introductory video at the beginning of the tour that provides a bit of story background and then guests are free to wander on their own. Admission is free, but the “tax collector” at the exit might throw an unlucky person in jail if he catches them failing to make a contribution to the donation box. Any money collected goes toward funding next year’s walk, paying for things like the hot chocolate and cookies that are served.

Having run for several years, the church has already amassed a collection of set pieces.

“We started with cardboard, now we’ve graduated to plywood which makes the fire marshall much happier,” said Geiger.

There is also a collection of 120 costumes that a previous volunteer spent six years scouring thrift stores for.

New for this year, children will be putting on a Bible story puppet theatre near the games shop in addition to their usual role of running around in the streets. Geiger, who has been pastor for 17 years, said the event is a joint project with all the other churches in Sooke who have specific roles — look for the Anglicans running the bakery, and Soleby’s Auction, the Pentecostals.

The original idea for the Bethlehem Walk came about when a lady from the congregation saw the one done by the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church, that is held outside and runs year round. Sooke tried the outdoor route for a while as well, setting up in tents outside.

“It was was freezing cold and miserable, but had a lot of character and it was expensive,” he said

About 1,000 visitors are expected to go through this Dec. 10, 11 and 12 from 6:30 until 9 p.m. Most will be locals, but Geiger said he’s seen entries in the guestbook from as far away as far away as Holland and Germany. One year, an exchange professor from the University of Israel commented “there’s a street like this in Jerusalem!”