Susan Bernard was so impressed with the annual Living Nativity held at Grace Bible Church that she went twice this weekend.
The first time through was shared on Friday with 2-year-old daughter Madison, who loved walking through the re-created Town of Bethlehem, complete with live sheep and a humorous innkeeper directing crowds toward the stable where the baby Jesus was being cradled in the arms of a young Mary.
"I had heard about it for a couple of years," Bernard said Sunday, the last night of the church production. "I was so impressed with everything. It was so professionally done for a group of nonprofessionals that I called my mother and said, 'Mom, you can't miss this.' "
Bernard drove to Middleport to pick up her mother, Rae Denning, and said Sunday's crowds were twice as large as Friday.
During the interactive play, small groups of people are led through many indoor and outdoor sets, with actors playing the parts of biblical characters, including Adam and Eve, Noah and, of course, the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Sunday, people lined up for the free tour, which begins with the creation of the world and ends with the Easter story of the resurrection of Jesus.
During the half-hour experience, a friendly shepherd helps people navigate through Bethlehem, Joseph greets those who want to see the baby, and the adult Jesus is seen performing a miracle.
Many make the event -- which organizers believe has been going on for seven years -- an annual tradition.
However, Sunday was the first time for 12-year-old Jamie Curtis of Lockport, who was so excited to see a live donkey in the stable with baby Jesus that she snapped a photo with her cell phone.
"I got to see a real donkey," she said proudly. "I'm going to show this off to everyone at school."
Jamie was at the church with her friends Chantel McOmber and Myranda Kozlowski, also of Lockport, and the small group said they liked the elaborate Noah's Ark scene, which was a new addition this year.
"It really got it through to you. It was so real," Jamie said. "I've already accepted Christ in my heart but for someone who hasn't this would really get [the Christmas story] through to them."
That sentiment is exactly why 200 church members helped pull off the Living Nativity event, according to organizers Dave Talladay and Mark Gerstung.
"Our goal is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ during this season," Talladay said. "As you go through the [various sets] I think you hear that."
Nancy and David Forness, who attend Grace Bible Church at 6023 Dutton Place, say they definitely do.
About 400 people came to the first two nights of the production, which began last weekend, and it appeared that good weather was bringing out the crowd Sunday.
"Many people say this officially starts their Christmas season," said Nancy Forness on Sunday. "It puts you in the right mood."