Christmas cheer


Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

Not a person but an event is the recipient of the Manifest Creative Arts Festival’s most prestigious award this year.

[Road to Bethlehem] recognises a collective creativity. . . and it shows Adventist creatives can make an impact in the community.

The interactive, outdoor drama Road to Bethlehem received the Gabe Reynaud Award during a ceremony in the Chan Shun Auditorium on Avondale College of Higher Educations Lake Macquarie campus, March 23, also named in honour of the pioneering Seventh-day Adventist filmmaker. The award recognises excellence in using the creative arts for ministry.

“It recognises a collective creativity,” says Manifest co-convenor Nathan Brown. Road to Bethlehem encompasses many aspects of creativity, from acting, costuming and staging, to scriptwriting, sound and lighting. “And it shows Adventist creatives can make an impact in the community.”

The nativity scene, complete with real baby, ends your walk on the Road to Bethlehem. [Photo courtesy: Ormond Howard]

Road to Bethlehem
is now in its 19th year. It began in 1995 as a ministry of Nunawading Seventh-day Adventist Church in Victoria. Twenty people volunteered to stage the event, which attracted a crowd of 700 over two nights. Now, with the support of Seventh-day Adventist Church in Victoria, 400 people volunteer to stage the event, which attracts a crowd of 15,000 over four nights.

“If you mention Seventh-day Adventists, so many people know about Road to Bethlehem,” says Carolyn Dunne, a member of the steering committee since 1996. The goodwill costs about $70,000 each year, but Road to Bethlehem does not charge for entry—the event is a gift to the community.

Over 400 volunteers, including full-costume actors, support in the production of Road to Bethlehem.

The City of Whitehorse recognised Road to Bethlehem’s role in building community by nominating it for an Australia Day Community Achievement Award in 2003. And Fairfax Media’s featured the event on its website in December last year. Despite this extra attention, Carolyn and the other members of the committee have resisted turning the event into a “carnival.” “We’ve always maintained it has to be spiritual. So, no Santa Claus. Everything about Road to Bethlehem is biblical.”

Road to Bethlehem has spawned four other Road to Bethlehems—in Dakabin Park, Queensland; in Erina, New South Wales; in Livingston, Western Australia; and in Tauranga, New Zealand.