Bethlehem Revisited Townsperson Guide

Thank you for investing your time into Bethlehem Revisited this year. Each time we do this event we see thousands of families enter the doors of our church, interact with our people, and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.

That’s worth celebrating – and it’s all because of you!

Unless you’re a Bethlehem veteran, you probably have questions about what to expect each night, how to prepare for the event, and when you need to be where.

This page should answer most of your question, but as always you are welcome to email me and I’ll gladly fill in any blanks you may still have.

The Basic Timeline

  • 5:30PM – Be in the wardrobe room getting prepared for the night.
  • 6:00PM – Be ready and in the village and around the well for the pre-event meeting.
  • 6:30PM – The official start time each night. Expect groups to begin entering the village about this time.
  • 8:30PM – The official end time each night, however, we will let people continue to enter the village until all groups have cleared the worship center.

Aiming for Authenticity

The goal of Bethlehem Revisited is to transport our guests back two thousand years to experience what it may have been like on the night that the Messiah was born. While we know that we cannot be 100% authentic in everything we do, we want to do everything we can to make this event as realistic as possible.

Dressing for Bethlehem

Under Your Costume

Meteorologists are predicting a chilly Bethlehem Revisited this year so dress in a way that will keep you comfortable for being outside in the cold for a couple of hours. It is recommended that you dress warmly – in layers – under your costume.

  • Keep all modern clothes under your costume. As cool as your North Face jacket is, it’s not very authentic to the first century – so keep it under your costume.
  • If you wear gloves, wear colors that are not loud like black, brown, tan, or white. Hand warmers will be available each night.
  • Wear shoes that won’t stick out. Yes, the fad is bright neon shoes, but stick to black or tan shoes for this event.
  • Avoid wearing jewelry with the exception of wedding rings.
  • Wearing glasses is okay if you need them to see. But, if you’re wearing them as a fashion statement or are a hipster, leave them at home.

Your Costume

The excellent wardrobe staff has a ton of costumes ready for you to wear at Bethlehem. All costumes are in room 205 (known as “the middle school room” – upstairs and down the green hallway) and the wardrobe staff will help you find the right size on the night of the event.

  • If you’re only serving one night at Bethlehem, please return your costume to the wardrobe room before you leave Antioch that night. We only have a limited number of costumes, so having them all returned each night is essential.
  • If you’re serving each night, feel free to take your costume with you. You don’t have to return it each night, just after Friday night!
  • Please make sure all costumes are returned on Friday night. We know that you have good intentions of washing them and bringing them back smelling like spring rain, but we’ve lost many costumes this way. As you leave on Friday, place your costume in a bin as you leave the village and we will wash them for you.

Keeping the Experience Real

Since we want to be as authentic and realistic as possible, we want to make sure that you become and think like a person from ancient Bethlehem. Here are a few things you will want to keep in mind as you help transport our guests back thousands of years for an experience they will never forget…

Staying in Character

The biggest part about selling the experience to our guest is the townspeople portraying themselves as authentically as possible. Here are a few things to remember:

  • You don’t know about modern things. Guests may attempt to bring up modern topics like Instagram, current topics, and electricity. We ask you to stay in character and not discuss these things with knowledge – even with people you know.
  • Mobile phones will not be invented for two millennia. So we ask that you keep them on silent and refrain from checking them while you are in character.
  • Feel free to pose for photos when asked. This one is a bit of a compromise because we want our guests to take photos if they wish, but remember that you don’t know what a camera is.
  • You don’t know who Jesus is – yet. I know this one seems a little weird, but how can you know the details about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus if he is only being born tonight in a manger in a secluded part of town? You are, as a person of the Jewish faith, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Messiah – but you only know the prophecies you’re heard. Oh yea, you don’t call the Old Testament the “Old Testament” because there isn’t a New Testament yet.

What Happens in Bethlehem Stays in Bethlehem

If you’ve ever been to a play or musical, you know that the actors don’t come out and interact with the audience in costume while the play is still in progress – that would run the whole thing. For this reason, stages have backstage areas for the actors to safely relax while not on stage.

At Bethlehem Revisited, the entire village and beyond is the stage. We know that there are times when you need a “backstage” area to take a quick restroom break, grab a snack, or warm up. For this reason, the wardrobe room (room 205) is the designated “backstage” area for costumed volunteers. Here are a few things to know:

  • This area is the only place you should be in the church while in costume. The only thing worse than taking a selfie with your iPhone in the village is wandering around the church in view of the guests while in costume. This area is sealed off from the guests and allows you to take a break without breaking the experience.
  • Use only the restrooms near the wardrobe room. Next to the wardrobe room are both men’s and women’s restrooms. Please use these since they are off-limits to guests.
  • Enter this “backstage” area through the outside stairwell. We will make sure that the stairway has adequate lighting for you; please don’t enter through the atrium of the church to make your way to the wardrobe area while the event is in progress.
  • Time your movement so that you don’t interrupt guests. We use the term “guests” very intentionally – we want to do everything in our power to make sure they have a fantastic experience. With that said, taking the stairway to the wardrobe area causes you to cross paths with the flow the drama progression that guests experience before they enter the village. Please be mindful of this and show courtesy to those experiencing the drama by waiting for a group to pass completely before you take the stairs.
  • Enjoy the snacks in the “backstage” area, but don’t camp out there. We want to take care of you because you are serving in such a huge way so light snacks will be provided. Though this is mainly a reminder for the kids that serve at Bethlehem, please keep your trips to the “backstage” area to a minimum. If everyone in the village visits the backstage area just once during the night that translates to about 75 trips up the stairs and 75 doors opening with blinding fluorescent light. Keeping visits to the break area to a bare minimum helps us keep distractions from taking away from guests’ experiences.

Thinking Like a Townsperson

It often helps actors to think like the person they are portraying. Since we are two thousand years and thousands of miles from the town of ancient Bethlehem, here are some historical tips about the town of Bethlehem, the situation taking place that night, and the attitude of the people that lived there:

  • Bethlehem is generally a small, sleepy rural town. It wasn’t a hub of culture or a vacation getaway – it was a place for agriculture, especially shepherding, and just enough commerce to support its residents.
  • But this town is busting at the seams with people for a short period of time. The Roman Emperor, Augustus, has dictated that a census be taken throughout is empire. To comply with this order, everyone must travel to their ancestral town and be counted – this has caused the town to temporarily fill up with people. If you work in a shop, this really excites you because you have the opportunity to make a lot of money. On the other hand, your sleepy little town is bustling with people and you’re not used to the crowds. (Think Oak Street in Conway in December.)
  • Bethlehem has one claim to fame: it’s the hometown of David. The most famous and most loved leader of all Israelite history hails from the same town you do – that’s why so many out-of-towners are here for the census.
  • The Romans are an occupying force in your homeland – and you resent them for it. To say that the Jewish people disliked the Romans would be an understatement. The very presence of Roman soldiers in town makes your blood pressure rise. The feeling is mutual though, the Roman soldiers don’t care for you either – you’re not Roman citizens and to make thins worse, this is a shepherding community (they think shepherding is a low-class profession).  For this reason, at Bethlehem Revisited, townspeople and Roman soldiers will not interact with each other – you resent them and they despise you, so you simply avoid talking to each other.
  • You are looking forward to the arrival of God’s promised Messiah. As a devout believer in the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, you know that God is planning on sending a Savior-figure to come and redeem and restore Israel. Again, you don’t know details about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – you only know about the Messiah through Old Testament prophecies.

Conversation Ideas

You may struggle to think of things to say when interacting with guests. Here are seven things you can use to strike up a conversation when interacting with guests:

  1. If you work in a shop, talk about your shop. Show them how to make baskets, let them smell the fish, try to get them to buy a toy. Remember, this is your night to make a ton of money while the census is bringing people to you.
  2. If you are an “at-large” townsperson not tied to a shop, ask guests if they have visited certain shops. “Have you made a candle yet? I hear the shopkeeper has a really great beard.” “Have you seen the rabbi? He can read from the ancient scrolls!”
  3. Ask guests about the census. “Are you here for the census, too?” “Wow, the census sure has our town crowded tonight.” “I just got to see some of my cousins from Jerusalem who are here for the census!” “This is the ancestral town of the great King David. Who knew so many people were related to King David!?”
  4. Give the guests suggestions. “It gets cold in Bethlehem during the winter – sometimes I warm up around the fire.” “Did you know that there are animal pens by the Inn?” “I’m not sure why some people throw shekels in our well – just wasting money that could buy a necklace at the jewelry shop.”
  5. Guests will be enamored with the Roman soldiers, talk about them when they walk by. “You know those Roman soldiers don’t like us very much.” “Every time I see a Roman soldier, I think about how high my taxes are.” “That Caesar Augustus thinks he can do whatever he wants – I guess if you’re emperor you can!”
  6. Talk about the rumor that someone went into labor tonight. “I hear that one of the out-of-towners had a baby tonight – I sure hope they were able to get a room at the Inn.” “I hear that one of the out-of-towners had a baby tonight – I wonder if it was a boy or girl?”
  7. Talk about how you’re anticipating the arrival of the Messiah, but not Jesus specifically. “Here in Bethlehem, we worship the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. He has promised us that He will send us a Messiah to save us.” “I wonder if God will send the promised Messiah during my lifetime?” “God hasn’t sent a prophet to Israel in hundreds of years – I wonder when God will show up again?”

Reminders for Kids and Students

  1. This event is for our guests, not you. So try to make their experience the very best it can be and never be a distraction.
  2. Walk in the town, not run. I know it’s fun to run and roughhouse, but it distracting to the guests (who don’t want to get bumped into) and dangerous (we have live fires and wild animals in the town).
  3. Don’t steal shekels. We don’t need any thieves in Bethlehem, so don’t take them from shops when the adults aren’t looking and especially not from guests.
  4. Keep yourself in the background. As a townsperson, you’re there as an “extra” – a person who plays the vital role of making the town feel real and full. Don’t hog front row spots at shops or eat all the samples at the various shops.
  5. If you collect taxes for the Money Changer, be courteous. Most shopkeepers are pretty busy, so do your best not to bug them. Also, don’t rudely push yourself to the front of the line to get the taxes – be polite and say “excuse me.”
  6. Don’t be a begger. It may be fun to beg for a night, but when you do you take shekels from our guests who need them to buy items in the shops.
  7. Don’t interact with the Roman soldiers. It will be tempting to mock them or ask them to throw someone in jail, but we’re asking all townspeople to give them the silent treatment – unless they talk to you first.
  8. Interact with guests, not just with your friends. Bethlehem isn’t a place for you to huddle up together and not interact with guests – get out and have a good time!
  9. Don’t throw anyone in jail. The jail isn’t for dragging your school friends into – it’s for one person to stay inside and look sad while another keeps watch on the outside.
  10. Only take one trip to get snacks or go to the restroom. It’s a distraction each time you take a trip up the stairs to the “backstage” area – so let’s keep it to one a night.

Miscellaneous

  • There is hot cocoa available for you in the Cheese and Butter Shop.
  • All Bethlehem Revisited volunteers are asked to park in the Furniture Row parking lot to free up spaces in our parking lot for guests.
  • Bobby Tucker and I (Stephen Castleberry) will be walking around the village. If you need anything, we are at your service.
  • Plain-clothed security guards will also be patrolling the village.
  • Fire extinguishers are in four shops in the village.

Thanks for making it to the end of this page! If you have any questions,   you are welcome to email me and I’ll gladly fill in any blanks you may still have. I can’t want to see what God does through Bethlehem Revisited this year!