Golden Springs Baptist Church is doing its part to tell the story with the presentation of its “Living Nativity,” Dec. 15 at the Oxford Performing Arts Center. The format of the play, produced by Rev. Ray Lloyd, is simple: actors perform the scripture as narrated by the minister, and accompanied by the church choir and members of the JSU Orchestra, not to mention more than 100 kids acting as candle-carrying admirers of the baby Jesus.
“Jesus was the best storyteller — and we’re simply telling the story,” says casting director Carolyn Conner, who has been involved with the production since she and her husband, Rev. Dunaway Conner, created it more than three decades ago. True to its name, the live-action performance has a real baby playing Jesus, but the real authenticity can be seen between Mary and Joseph, played for the better part of 10 years by Anniston optometrist Robert Ellis and his wife, Jennifer.
“It’s a role that is fun, but it’s also something we take very seriously,” says Ellis. “I definitely always have the story in mind as we’re going.”
Jennifer, a lifelong attendee of Golden Springs Baptist, says she “knew what to expect” as an annual watcher of the play, and finds herself tapping into her own maternal experiences when she hits the stage.
“I’m sitting there holding a real baby, and just looking at that baby’s face and thinking about what Mary must have felt holding Jesus,” she says. Surrounded by the choir, neither Mary nor Joseph speak, seeking to convey the quiet spirits of the two characters. While the adults can maintain their composure, the babies don’t always fare as well.
“They’ll cry sometimes,” Jennifer says. “But I just kind of have to (do) just like Mary would have done — just be a mom.”
The couple’s two children, who are 9 and 5, get a special kick out of seeing their parents on stage together.
“They like to come watch — especially my daughter. She understands the story and how important it is. She thinks it’s special,” Jennifer says.
This year is the first time the performance, which is free to attend and open to the public, will be held at the Oxford Performing Arts Center.
“We consider this a gift to the community,” says Conner, who plans to remain committed to telling this story for years to come.
Holiday traditions aside, it’s the church’s hope that the sacred message goes beyond entertainment, says Jennifer. “We get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. I think it’s just a time for people to stop and remember why we celebrate.”
IF YOU GO…
What: “Living Nativity,” the story of the birth of Jesus, presented by the worship ministry of Golden Springs Baptist Church.
When: Sunday, 6 p.m.
Where: Oxford Performing Arts Center, 100 Choccolocco St., (across from First Baptist Church of Oxford)