Living Nativity thanks

Published 4:54 pm Monday, December 30, 2019

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By Charles Qualls

There are moments in our lives that should awaken a deep sense of gratitude if we are truly alive.

Oh, we all have seasons where we just can’t readily access our joy. Dark nights of the soul can take our happiness, our thanks, and tuck it away for a time. But some things should reach inside and surface our very hearts because there simply is no other response.

As we close out a year that has been, our recent Community Living Nativity seemed such a strong note to close on. On three nights, Dec. 18-20, an upswell of creativity and willingness came to rest in downtown Franklin. In fact, somehow the whole thing felt emblematic of the year that has been. Barrett’s Landing was host as upward of 780 vehicles drove through to observe the multi-scene presentation of Christ’s birth. Yes, we counted.

Have you ever thrown a party and wondered if anyone would show up? That was the palpable feeling as this production came together. We felt like we were on to something that might be appealing. In the end, though, how can you really know? Based on a conservative formula per car, we believe that between 2,600-3,000 people came through in total.

Credit begins where it should: Billie Turner, who most people know as the dynamo from The Village at Wood’s Edge. She could see the concept of the Living Nativity in her creative mind more than a year ago. The team she pulled together to shape the event were talented. Kay Drumheller and Mike Holloman were the other primary driving forces. So many others from our congregation played integral roles. Eventually, five other churches joined us in hosting scenes and providing live music.

Cecil Edwards and Madelyn Crosby provided live music. The Village portrayed a scene. Highground Services lent vital visual support so generously. The Tidewater News and WLQM went above and beyond to help us give this gift to our community.

Beautifully, four organizations dove in and partnered. The YMCA Leaders Program and our local United Way both portrayed scenes. The Downtown Franklin Association and the City of Franklin also contributed so helpfully. So many departments from our city helped out that If I tried to name them all, I would leave out too many. I have already expressed my personal thanks to City Manager Amanda Jarratt. Without our city, this event quite literally could not have happened in such an ideal setting.

So, what really happened? Here are some highlights. In my mind, I still picture countless volunteers who worked at assembling and removing the sets each day. They did so at times in such cold weather. The first line of cars on Wednesday night arrived just moments before opening time. Their anticipation fueled us. Fellowship each night at Barrett’s Landing, enjoying music and the flavors of hot chocolate and cookies, was nice. Actors standing in place for nearly two hours each night, ignoring frigid conditions, was inspiring.

The last night, so many cars showed up that traffic wrapped around to the boat launch. Patiently, drivers waited their turns and eased through, taking in the story and its sights. We ministers who served as the on-site greeters as cars exited got to hear a chorus of “thank-yous.” The enthusiasm from those who drove through was a gift to us.

Will this matter long-term? I hope so. One city official said to me, “Oh you know you all have to do this again, now!” I loved that. We are already announcing dates of Dec. 16-18 for a three-night run next year. Mark your calendars. Even more, for three days we saw companies, churches and organizations — aided by their city — working together. There was something powerful, maybe even rare in that.

Don’t discount, as well, that people drove into Franklin from other areas in our region. Cars came from Smithfield, Suffolk, Boykins, Windsor, Ivor and beyond. They joined locals as they ate in our restaurants and shopped in our stores.

I have long believed that when you have received a gift, the only fitting response is to say thank you. To be grateful. In this column, I attempt to do just that. Even more, I was reminded this year that sometimes when you partake in giving a significant enough gift, the only fitting response is also to be grateful that you could.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.