Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
When Tim and Janice Brackett moved from Asheville to Franklin about 10 years ago, they began attending Cartoogechaye Baptist Church on West Old Murphy Road. Almost immediately the couple felt that the setting and grounds were right for a live nativity scene event, which their former Asheville church undertook annually. The Bracketts helped organize with Cartoogechaye Baptist Church members what has become a “big production,” said Tim Brackett; this year building and coordination is already under way.
So far about five work days, and more than 40 hours of labor, have resulted in massive painted sets secured to create a realistic Bethlehem village scene. From Dec.14 through Dec. 16, from 6 to 9 p.m., visitors will have an opportunity to drive up to the church, hear a short introduction with instructions, be handed an audio device, and then drive through “Bethlehem” to pause at five different scenes and learn details of the Christmas story. Volunteers dress in authentic period costumes that were made by church members or ordered online. The elaborate Roman guards’ costumes, especially, had to be ordered, explained Brackett. Giant wooden facades, stored when not in use in a sheltered space on the church grounds, were painted primarily by Pastor Brian Southard’s wife, Summer, and artist/painter Sandy DeNiear.
While Cartoogechaye Baptist Church originally offered the live nativity annually, so much goes into the event that church leadership decided biennial is more doable. “It’s so involved,” said Brackett. “Everyone pitches in and has a task, whether it’s costumes, construction, media, the animals, or other roles. Each year we add things. It takes a lot of people, about 50 on the nights of the live nativity, and it’s a big undertaking for such a small church of about 150, but it’s worth it to create this experience of Bethlehem.”
Animals for the live nativity are provided by local individuals. A cow, donkey, sheep, goats, and chickens are brought to the church about two hours prior to the event during each of the three days. Baby Jesus is a realistic looking doll donated by long-time church member Katherine Davis, who passed two years ago.
“When visitors drive into the ‘gates,’ we want them to go back in time … to believe they are in Bethlehem,” said Brackett. “We hope they will, for a few minutes, forget about the world and focus on the birth of Jesus.”
Brackett added that the live nativity event is, first and foremost, a ministry to “bring the hope of Jesus to everyone and to touch someone who might be in need.”
For Brackett and his wife, the process from start to finish is rewarding despite the careful attention, planning, and work that goes into it every other year. Their two grown sons, Kyle and Tyler, have been and continue to be involved. “They never go inside on the nights we have it,” he said. “It makes Christmas for our family that much more special.”
Brackett said the Cartoogechaye Baptist Church live nativity draws residents of Macon County and other nearby counties as well as visitors to the area. A local group home and some church groups make it a biennial holiday field trip.
Directions: From Franklin, take U.S. 64W for about 6 miles; at the end of the four-lane, turn left onto W. Old Murphy Road. Cartoogechaye Baptist Church is about a half a mile on the right.