Ed Grisamore

Drive-through Nativity brings joy to the world (and Middle Georgia)

The Moodys as Mary and Joseph in manger with twin sons Barrett, left, and Walter as shepherds.
The Moodys as Mary and Joseph in manger with twin sons Barrett, left, and Walter as shepherds. Special to the Telegraph

I’m not sure which person in history should be credited with the invention of the “drive-thru.’’ But they sure made it easier to go through life without ever getting out of the car.

It is now possible to get where you want to go without a map (thanks to GPS), then get what you want by rolling down your window.

You can use a drive-thru at the bank, the dry cleaners and pick up your prescriptions at the pharmacy. From behind the wheel you can order everything from a cheeseburger to chicken nuggets to an “iced caramel brulee latte” from Starbucks. (The old Nu-Way Weiners on Houston Avenue was the first drive-thru restaurant in Macon and one of the first in the state.)

In 1996, the good folks at Riverside United Methodist Church started one of Macon’s most time-honored holiday traditions — the Drive-Through Nativity.

For three nights in early December, the church’s driveway and parking lot are filled with angels, shepherds, wise men and a Baby Jesus surrounded by a manger menagerie of cows, goats, horses, sheep … almost everything but a partridge in a pear tree.

Thanks to Patricia Edenfield of Party Animalz, who supplies the live animals, there is a llama impersonating a camel. (In the beginning, there once was a donkey named Pancho.)

All of this has brought great joy to the world.

“We like to call it our Christmas gift to Macon,’’ said David McCollum, who has been involved with the nativity for 11 years and has been in charge for the past five. “I tell everyone in our church this may be the only time many people see and hear the true story of Christmas this season.’’

Riverside Methodist sits on a hill wedged between Riverside Drive and Pierce Avenue. From Thursday to Saturday, Dec. 6-8 from 7-9 p.m., a stream of cars, trucks and vans will circle the church to see the story of the birth of Jesus Christ unfold before them like pages from the Gospel of Luke.

The event draws about 3,000 vehicles every year, with many families making it a holiday tradition. Organizers are keeping their fingers crossed for the weather to cooperate.

Last year, the first two nights were postponed because of rain. McCollum said Saturday night went fine, but getting everyone to come back for a make-up date on Sunday was a challenge.

“I think we ended up with only two wise men instead of three,’’ he said, laughing.

It takes about three dozen people to portray the likes of Mary, Joseph and a cast of other characters for one-hour shifts. Church members fill most of the parts, and it takes about 150 people to put it together over three days, McCollum said.

There is community involvement, as well. Children from the Methodist Home and residents of Wesley Glen, a home for adults with developmental disabilities, will participate this year.

Walter and Allyson Moody are members of Riverside UMC and have made the drive-through nativity a family affair with their 12-year-old twin sons, Barrett and Walter, since 2012.

“We all played shepherds in the field watching over the flock by night,’’ Allyson said. “I thought I was going to lose my mind that first year because our sons were so little. You want it to be meaningful to the people going through, so I was whispering out of the side of my mouth for the boys to stay still.’’

The Moody boys have been shepherds for most of their nativity career, graduating up and down the line to different stations. More recently, they were in the manger scene with their mom and dad, who played Mary and Joseph.

At 46, Allyson is convinced she is getting too old to keep playing Mary, although she embraces the role. One year Walter played Gabriel, and admitted holding up those angel wings can be tiresome, even with support straps. This year, the boys hope they will have grown enough to fit into the Roman guard costumes.

When they’re not in costume, the Moodys work tirelessly behind the scenes to help with everything from food, wardrobe and traffic control. If it’s a chilly evening, they’re right there with hot chocolate and hand warmers for the participants.

Walter and Allyson said it’s a wonderful way to remember the reason for the season. The outreach is meaningful for both the participants and to those who pass through.

“When we gather to say a prayer before we go out there, it makes me weepy,’’ Allyson said “It is such a sweet way to involve and immerse yourself in the story and in the season and give something to the community.’’

Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.

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