Journey to Bethlehem at Hitts Chapel Nears Finale

Thursday, December 11, 2014
Pastor Charles Richardson and his wife, Paula, portray Joseph and Mary during the annual Christmas Fest Sunday. The couple braved the cold in costume to promote the upcoming Journey to Bethlehem, set for Dec. 19 to 21, at Hitts Chapel Church north of Piggott.

A longtime local tradition will come to a close later this month, as the final "Journey to Bethlehem" is hosted by Hitts Chapel General Baptist Church. For the congregation of the church, which is located north of Piggott, it will mark the final installment of the popular Christmas offering.

This year's 30th and final Journey to Bethlehem will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. each evening Friday through Sunday, Dec. 19 to 21.

The story of the effort has been recounted a number of times, and first started with humble beginnings in December of 1985. The brainchild of church member Steve Crowson, the first live nativity was a single stable scene and was planned as an activity for the young adult class of the church. Crowson went on to serve as director for two years, and then turned the effort over to Mike Travillian. In the years since Travillian, with the assistance of his wife Ann has served as director.

The Hitts Chapel Baptist Church's "Journey to Bethlehem" float in the Piggott Christmas Parade featured a number of those who make the annual effort possible. Pictured are, from left: event director Mike Travillian and volunteer, and animal wrangler, Ronnie Baker.

Sadly, Crowson passed away just days before the 1988 live nativity was scheduled to begin, and that year it was held in his memory.

Over the course of the next several years the project continued to grow, with the addition of more scenes, animals and players. In recent years it has involved over two dozen people in costume, numerous live animals, parking attendants and church members to tend the welcome center. Other parishioners also take on the task of feeding the workers prior to the start of each evening's production. Plus, additional veteran volunteers are always on hand in the welcome center in the church fellowship hall, along with photos of previous events and an historical timeline.

In 2001 Charles Richardson became pastor of the church, and the name "Journey to Bethlehem" was adopted for the event. The event also continued to grow and make improvements, and in 2002 the all-time attendance record was set at over 1,100.

In fact, over the course of the past 29 years church members note average attendance has been around 500 people each year, and they estimate over 15,000 have visited during the holiday season.

More changes have been made in the last few years, as the walk-through scenes now chronicle the full Christmas story from Isaiah's prophecy to the final stable scene of Christ's birth.

There is no charge for admission to see the "Journey to Bethlehem" and the public is cordially invited to attend the final offering. The church is located three miles north of Piggott and can be reached by turning north on North Fourth Avenue at the corner of West Jackson, between Piggott Fire Station #1 and the Piggott Family Medical Clinic.

Those wanting more information may contact the church office at 870 598-2595 or may call Richardson at 870 634-6853.

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