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Evangel Baptist Church brings Bethlehem to Lakewood Ranch

Church members create costumes and set pieces to show what Bethlehem was like at the time of Jesus' birth.

Lakewood Ranch's Sondra Twitty shows off one of the costumes for Joseph.
Lakewood Ranch's Sondra Twitty shows off one of the costumes for Joseph.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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East County's Linda Baker was busy making sure the costumes she had sewn for Evangel Baptist Church’s Drive-Thru Bethlehem were ready. 

Baker, who lives in the Il Villaggio neighborhood, and other volunteers spent hours at the church checking measurements to ensure the costumes would fit the people playing the characters. Then came the ironing. 

Meanwhile outside the church, Linda Baker’s husband Jerry Baker joined a dozen volunteers in putting together set pieces to convert the church’s driveway into Bethlehem for the Dec. 2-3 event.

The Drive-Thru Bethlehem represents the time of Jesus' birth. Guests will travel through Bethlehem to visit the different shops, meeting a baker, a basket maker, a carpenter, and a tax collector, among others.

All of the set pieces and most of the costumes were made by church members. 

When Baker started making costumes four years ago, she researched what people wore in Bethlehem. She found those residents wore tunics, shawls or cloaks with more earthy tones such as tan, dark red, gray and more. Many of them also have head coverings. 

She used patterns she found online to make the tunics. 

She found sheets and fabric from Goodwill and other consignment shops to make costumes. She made a small, medium and large of the costumes so there’s one to fit anyone who plays that character, especially for the children who participate.

“It’s fun looking at fabric and thinking in your mind, ‘OK, this will be good for a shepherd, this might work for a different character,'" Baker said.

She said Bethlehem was a poor town, so she didn’t worry about finding jewelry, gold or flashy pieces for the costumes. She also didn’t have to make costumes for kings and queens, which she said would have been more complicated because they would need to be more extravagant. 

There are some costumes, such as those worn by soldiers, that were purchased online.

The first year she made costumes, Baker said it took days to create one costume. Although she knew how to sew, she had never made tunics before. 

Lakewood Ranch's Sondra Twitty helps Arcadia 6-year-old Jeremiah Anderson try on a costume for Jesus as a child.
Photo by Liz Ramos 

“When I first started this, I was so nervous because I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said.

Now, more than 100 costumes later, if she needs to make a costume, she’s able to create two or three in a day. 

Her favorite costume she’s made is for the person playing Mary.

“It’s always sweet to see her come together,” she said. “The blue and the white always represent Mary.”

She said seeing her costumes on the amateur actors as they roam about Bethlehem or work in the shops is wonderful.

“It looks really beautiful after you get them together,” Baker said. “Once it all comes together and everybody’s dressed up and in their positions, everything looks nice.”

 Jerry Baker takes charge of assembling all the shops, town gates and the manger. 

“We want to give people an idea of what Bethlehem was like," he said. "We want the atmosphere of what was going on when Jesus was born in the stable.” 

New this year is a set showing Jesus’ childhood home. 

Jerry Baker said his daughter-in-law’s mother, Joanne Hall, will work on the childhood home. Jerry Baker already has constructed the home, but Hall will paint and design it. 

Il Villaggio's Jerry Baker helps Arcadia's Matthew Anderson secure the gates to Bethlehem.
Photo by Liz Ramos 

“She brings it to life,” Jerry Baker said. “She will paint and design the doors, windows and everything in there. I’m excited to see how she can bring the three dimensions of it out. I see it in my head. The hard part is getting other people to see it.”

In other shops like the bakery and carpenter shop, the walls are painted to look like rocks.

The bakery will have a portable convection oven that will be hidden and made to look like a fireplace. There are baskets of bread, eggs and other bakery items. 

The manger is made of wood, with hay spread all around. There are wooden cutouts of animals.

To create the different shops, church members build a frame and make the roof in fabric. They hang lights so everything can be seen at night. 

Jerry Baker said most people who visit love the carpentry shop where children get to do hands-on activities.



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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