Their set for life

Dave Herman and Ed Chambers have their work cut out for them.

Over the summer, the duo have been upgrading the sets used last year for Bethlehem Village at First Presbyterian Church in Burbank.

The second annual event will again feature a re-creation of what Bethlehem might have been like at the time of Jesus’ birth, said Ann-Marie Murrell, event director.

Visitors who register with the census takers at the entrance of the village receive gold coins to spend at the marketplace, where every half-hour, actors recreate the Nativity scene.

Herman and Chambers are members of the church and meet once a week as the Wednesday Men, a group of retired men who make repairs at the church.

Herman, a Glendale resident, and Chambers, of Burbank, built 4-by-8 panels out of thin plywood that were fastened together by a frame.

“They built two huge new sets and doors and windows, so it’s all going to be much more realistic and 3D,” Murrell said.

The panels were painted to make them look like stone, Chambers said.

Last year, they had only two months to build the backdrops, so over the summer they had more time to remake several of them.

“We made three more panels this year, two doors and one window,” Chambers said. “This will be the inn and the manger. Dave is working on an old-style vise, which holds the stock.” We don’t know what Joseph used.”

Herman’s main task last year was an important piece of furniture, he said.

“I made the manger, the crib for the Baby Jesus, out of plywood and stained it all,” he said.

Murrell was pleased with the outcome.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more authentic,” she said. “There were no nail holes. It was done with tongue and groove. There was nothing modern. It was done very much the way it would have been. It was basically just a trough for animals.”

In the marketplace, there are several shops and services — including a bakery, carpentry shop and an ornament-making shop. So this year, Herman is making signs to identify each.

“Last year, we had cardboard signs,” Herman said. “This year we are making them out of redwood and creating letters with a router. Then we are painting the letters in the grooves.”

Herman and Chambers will be in the carpentry shop showing visitors how to make wooden stools with three legs.

“This year, I’m trying to create a vise that would depict what was typical of the era,” he said.

Participating in Bethlehem Village is a way to take the commercialism out of the holiday, Herman said.

“Somehow along the lines, with the Grinch and Santa Claus, we’ve gotten way away from the real meaning of the holiday,” he said. “We can’t talk about Jesus in a public setting. It’s not politically correct. I’m not an evangelical, but this is a way of getting back to our roots.”

The village project is an outreach project, Chambers said.

“It just feels like we’re doing something to spread the word,” he said. “We believe in the Lord. We hope people will come through and return to worship with us.”

Bethlehem is expanding

More than twice the number of volunteers are giving time to Bethlehem Village, and several new attractions have been added, organizers said.

Last year, about 75 volunteers were involved in the Nativity show and behind the scenes, said Ann-Marie Murrell, director and co-producer.

“This year, I’ve had 175 people,” she said. “It’s an outreach to the community but something every person in our church can participate in, and all ages, from 9 months to one woman who is pushing 100.”

Helping Murrell are co-producer Phil Fehrle and Kathy Purdy, wife of the Pastor Ross Purdy, who is the event’s marketplace coordinator.

This year, Jesus is played by Kaden Smith of Ventura, who is the grandson of member Violet Nesbitts of Burbank.

One of the new attractions is the Hebrew School, Murrell said. Dave Leslie, pastoral associate of the church, will be the teacher.

“He will read stories from the Old Testament that pertain to the coming of the Messiah,” she said.

There will also be a synagogue, and Michael Wapner, a church supporter who is Jewish, will portray the rabbi, Murrell said.

Murrell has also been working with volunteers to make 165 costumes.

“They are as authentic as possible,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of research on the Internet and copied a lot of things from the movie ‘Nativity Story.’”

Several new shops in the marketplace include those selling items made of olives, like olive oil. There will also be a nut shop, spice and ornament shops.

“A group of ladies made dough ornaments with fragrances of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla,” she said. “They are beautifully made with hand-tied raffia.”

For those who would like a preview, a DVD was made last year by Joel Fallon of Burbank, chief photographer at KCBS-TV Channel 2. It is shown at 8 p.m. every Thursday until Dec. 20 on Charter Communications Channel 25.

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