Citing the age and poor condition of the structures that house the re-creations of the town of Jesus Christ’s birth, the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church will not produce the popular Bethlehem Walk this year.
A holiday tradition in the area for 22 years, the Bethlehem Walk attracted an average of 10,000 visitors each year. It also raised $15,000-$20,000 each year — along with hundreds of kilograms of food — for the Salvation Army, according to pastor Barry Nielsen, who broke the news to the community on Thursday.
“There’s a lot of disappointment in our (church) community over the closure,” said Nielsen. “But we don’t want to be in a position where we jeopardize anyone’s safety.”
The structures housed scenes of Christ-era Bethlehem — including merchants and the nativity scene — with actors dressed in period clothing.
“Over the years the structures have seen some deterioration and we’re not in a position to make the repairs this year, plus we are missing some key leaders,” said Nielsen. “It takes thousands of volunteer hours to put that together. So, it (the cancellation of the Bethlehem Walk) is about more than just resources.”
New structures need to be built and a new roof, along with some wiring. Nielsen also said there are questions about whether the church could continue to operate the Bethlehem Walk as a temporary structure under city bylaws. The city has allowed that to happen historically.
“I don’t know how realistic that is, maintaining it as a temporary structure,” said Nielsen.
About 500 people attend weekly services at the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church. Nielsen said there has been no decision make about the Bethlehem Walk in 2017 or beyond.
“We aren’t saying either way.”
The Salvation Army’s Major Norm Hamelin was asked about the effects of the cancellation on the Army’s efforts.
“It puts us a little short, but it means we have to try a little harder,” said Hamelin. “We have to let folks know we are behind the eight ball. We are trusting that God is going to provide for us.”