More than a decade ago, David Watson of Mandeville's First Baptist Church decided the church should do something different for Christmas — something community-oriented.
That’s how the church's annual Live Nativity was born.
The church, at 1895 U.S. 190, will present its 10th anniversary Live Nativity from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 7-9. The event is free to the public, though donations are accepted to offset the cost.
The Nativity features 10 scenes, starting with an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah and journeying through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There also will be Christmas music, hot chocolate and some surprises this year — though Watson was reluctant to publicize a change at the end of the program.
Other than adding a horse to the cast of characters — camels are too expensive — the 10th anniversary won’t bring any major changes, Watson said. There is, however, always something new each year.
“We do a different miracle each year," he said. "This year, it will be the raising of the young girl from the dead.”
The Nativity has continued to draw larger crowds. He said as many as 1,200 people have attended in one night, and as many as 3,700 over three days.
Still, he said, organizers do a very good job in keeping everyone comfortable with music, refreshments and more. Some people have said they started attending church because of the Live Nativity, he added.
Watson said his favorite part is the stable scene, and he often watches as viewers stand and stare at the portrayal of the birth of Jesus.
Each scene has narration, with a member of the cast offering an explanation. The cast consists of church members — about 100 in all.
“It’s very pretty the way it all comes together,” Watson said. “There is candlelight and (there are) fire pits. The scenes are lit (for greatest affect.) I often hear people say how beautiful it is.
"People call every year to see when it is scheduled. We are real pleased to hear that. Hopefully, we will make a difference in people’s lives, seeing the Gospel played out.”
Watson, who is the worship and senior adult pastor at Mandeville's First Baptist, said the church used to offer a Christmas cantata instead of the Nativity. He has no regrets about making the change.
“In just the first year, 1,000 people walked through,” he said. “It is really a great teaching moment.”
Renee Lowder, the church member who makes sure all the pieces come together, agrees.
“We have been able to bring the story of Christ to the community," she said. " We started every step from scratch. People have no idea (how much work goes into it) but it’s a labor of love."
Lowder thinks the accessibility of the Nativity helps draw people. One of her fondest memories in a decade of helping organize the event was when she overheard a visitor phone someone and say, "Get in your car and come over here. It’s absolutely beautiful."
“It’s intimate for people,” Lowder said. “They are close to the sets. Kids just love it. ... I hope we have maybe 5,000 (visitors.)"
For more information on the Live Nativity at Mandeville's First Baptist Church, call (985) 626-3217.