Journey to Bethlehem celebrates 20 years of sharing the ‘greatest story ever told’

MINDEMOYA—Over the last 20 years of its run, it has taken an army of more than 200 volunteers to pull off the wonder that is the Journey to Bethlehem and this year was no exception.

“I can’t say enough about the wonderful people who make this happen every year,” said organizer Monic Shaw. “Especially those people who you don’t ever see, like the folks who spend all week baking cookies and doing things behind the scenes. They are not up front and you hardly ever see them, but they make such a difference every year.”

While Friday night is the busiest evening for locals, both nights of the two-night run were packed with people lining up in the unseasonably warm weather to take the journey celebrating the Christmas story.

There were more than 400 people who took in the community theatre presentation again this year. Over the past few years the crowd has been fairly steady, but recent years have seen a drop-off in the number of buses pulling in from other communities.

“There used to be a lot of church groups who organized trips to see the Journey to Bethlehem, but buses are so expensive now,” noted Ms. Shaw. “It’s cheaper to just have a bunch of people jump in a van to come over.”

There were visitors from Sudbury, from Capreol and across the Valley, from across the North Shore and beyond who made the trip, and not all were just coming to see the show. “We have people from Sudbury and Lively who come to help each year,” said Ms. Shaw.

Once again Gary Brown and family could be found driving the bus between the parking lot at the Mindemoya Missionary Church and Our Lady of Canada Roman Catholic Church where the start of the trail begins.

A host of period costumed actors and musicians entertained folks with a play depicting the story of the interaction between Herod and the Three Wise Men, a sing-along led by Tara Bernatchez and Maurice Labelle, and the shepherd garb-clad band led by Jeff Pyette kept everyone entertained while they waited their turn to be guided down the trail—tax bills in hand and ready to be enumerated in the great census ordered by the Roman Caesar.

Along the way, angels sang out their songs of praise, while shepherds guided their flocks by night, threading their way through grumpy Roman guards, pitiful beggers and lepers, all the while being cajoled by insistent merchants and an army of thieves intent on relieving the pilgrims of the precious gold needed to pay their taxes.

At the end of the line lies the inn, behind which the stable containing the live babies playing the baby Jesus can be found.

Although this was the 20th anniversary of the start of Mindemoya’s Journey to Bethlehem, the troupe did not set up any special celebration of the landmark date. “It’s enough to get everything organized,” laughed Ms. Shaw. “We just concentrated on putting on a show.”

Ms. Shaw was also effusive in her praise of the youth who help out with the production. “They are so amazing, so helpful,” she said.

This year’s Journey to Bethlehem was once again a major hit with attendees, despite the sometimes lengthy wait that taking the journey can entail. “The last family probably went through just before 11 pm,” said Ms. Shaw. “People are amazingly patient.”

But they never leave disappointed, as the wait is always time well spent.

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