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Journey through time
It’s a journey well worth taking at Christmas time – both for parishioners of St. Mark’s Anglican Church and many visitors.
The Journey of Christmas, the annual display of mannequins and dioramas recounting the Christmas story in the woods behind the church, is now in its ninth season – and a well-established tradition on the Peninsula.
It’s a chance to walk along the well-defined pathway listening to the narration at each artfully-lighted station, before dispelling some of the wintry chill with hot chocolate and good fellowship at the church, including Christmas-themed musical entertainment by choirs, choruses and other local performers.
Most of all, it’s a chance for Christians and non-Christians alike to rediscover the story of Jesus of Bethlehem and the Nativity in half an hour of quiet reflection.
“The guided walk through the woods is its own unique experience to bring the meaning of Christmas closer to everyone who visits,” said Brian Walks, volunteer marketing coordinator for the church.
“Some groups come after a family dinner, just for a walk through the woods,” he said.
“It’s good for both mind and body. Some people have come through on Christmas Eve and were so moved they wanted to join the Christmas Eve services in progress.”
The Journey Of Christmas began in 1999, he recalled, with the vision of congregation-member John Reader.
“He saw that, over the past few decades, the true meaning of Christmas had been lost to commercialism and secularism, and that the story of the Nativity had also been lost,” Walks said.
What started with a few volunteers who built the original mannequins and nine temporary covered stations, or theatres, has since grown into the largest non-residential outdoor Christmas display on the Peninsula, he added.
The theatres have been weather-proofed over the years, while the mannequins have just been refurbished for this season under the direction of volunteer Ted Lindsey.
More than 150 volunteers now help each year as tour guides, hosts and hostesses, kitchen help and in setting up and taking down the display.
“Everything moves a lot smoother; it becomes a lot more streamlined when you’re dealing with the event for a number of years,” Walks said.
“Jonathan Blanchard, who has been the interim church leader since August, and his wife Deanna, are very enthusiastic supporters of the Jouney of Christmas, and new people who have joined the church this year have also been getting involved – even before they knew what it was all about.”
The one thing that can’t be predicted with accuracy is the weather, he said – but even with some of the most extreme winter conditions in years during December of last year, the Journey of Christmas drew some 1216 visitors.
“We were set up to go, we opened, and we didn’t have to close any night,” Walks said.
“Our opening was the same night as the Stanley Park windstorm – but we were spared.”
One upside of the weather conditions was that it brought visitors from further afield than usual, as many similar Lower Mainland displays weren’t open, Walks said.
“We hope they’ll be back this year.”
Former parish priest Jim Fergusson and his wife, Annette, who recorded the narration in 1999, will return to the church Sunday, Dec. 23 for lessons and carols services at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
The addition of entertainers has grown to be a popular feature of each year’s Journey of Christmas, and the current roster includes many local favourites.
Included are Ulo Valdma and the choir of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, White Rock (Sunday, Dec. 16), Pacific Showtime Barbershop Chorus (Monday, Dec. 17, after 8 p.m.), Genelle Leifso, Barb Walks and members of St. Mark’s Choir (Tuesday, Dec. 18), pianist Glenna Gervan of Peace Portal Alliance Church (Thursday, Dec. 20), Solange Perrault and the Praise Team (Friday, Dec. 21) and the Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society Singers (Thursday, Dec. 27).