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Marketplace is a real labor of love

Sidebar by Lynda La Rocca

Bethlehem Market – December 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

The phrase “It takes a village …” comes to mind when describing the effort involved in staging the Valley Fellowship Church’s Bethlehem Marketplace.

The all-volunteer event requires 3,000 to 4,000 man-hours of preparation, this year under the direction of Terri Hansen and Sue Goins, the latter a Marketplace veteran who also served as co-coordinator in 2004 and 2006.

Planning begins in March and intensifies in September. By the week prior to the event, nearly two-dozen committees are putting the finishing touches on every aspect of the production. New market stalls have been built and old ones removed from storage and reassembled. Scenery has been painted, backdrops installed, and costumes refurbished. Props are being arranged, some donated or on loan, others courtesy of committee members who have scoured local garage sales for appropriate items.

Meanwhile, other volunteers are coordinating plans for greeting visitors, serving refreshments, directing outdoor parking, and ushering new arrivals into church pews to regulate the flow of human traffic. Near the altar, a half-dozen decorated Christmas trees twinkle as some of the production’s 35 musicians rehearse holiday songs that will entertain visitors waiting to enter the Marketplace.

While the majority of these musicians, along with the Marketplace cast of about 140 men, women, and children, are church members, community members not affiliated with the church also participate. So does that wild card of all live productions: live animals.

“They can be unpredictable,” admits Margaret Slavish, who co-coordinated the event with Goins in 2004 and 2006. “One year we had a fainting sheep. It would be standing in its stall and then suddenly it would keel over. The owner said, ‘Don’t worry; sometimes it just goes to sleep.’And sure enough, it would get right back up again.”

Then there was the time the chickens ran amok. The birds had been allowed to roam outside their pens (a since-discontinued practice) and children started chasing them, driving the squawking and flapping fowl into merchants’booths.

There was also that bit of overacting on the part of the “mud turtles,” brick makers (think Charlton Heston in the classic movie The Ten Commandments) who once stomped straw into mud so vigorously that the ceiling wound up splattered with gobs of the wet, sticky stuff.

Overall, though, Bethlehem Marketplace has never had a serious glitch. And given its size and scope — the free event attracts between 1,400 and 1,500 people over two nights — and the fact that it runs on a shoestring budget not exceeding $1,500, that’s something of a miracle.

Originally an annual event, the church decided several years ago to limit the Marketplace to every other year — 2008 marks the tenth production — because of the amount of work involved.

And though it’s billed as a “community outreach” designed to remind people of “the reason for the season,” believers and non-believers alike are equally welcome at Bethlehem Marketplace.

“You don’t have to be Christian to get emotional about this event,” Goins notes. “But there’s a feeling of love here, and people sense that. They walk in, catch their breath, and say, ‘Wow!’ because they’re astounded by the animals, the music, the food, the energy, everything about the Marketplace.”

For me, Bethlehem Marketplace truly captures the spirit of peace, hope, joy, and love that defines the season. And in the immortal words of Linus to Charlie Brown, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”