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"We are sharing . . . our basic beliefs' // Show will put audience inside world of Nativity

For about a year, the members of the Presbyterian Church of Palm Harbor have worked to bring a little bit of Bethlehem here. On Dec. 9, they finally will.

The 450-member church is staging "Search for the Christ Child," a full-scale re-enactment of the biblical version of the quest to find the baby Jesus.

Simply stated, the show is a one-hour play. More descriptively, it is an elaborate, eight-set, take-part-in-it living drama spread out over seven acres surrounding the church.

"It's clearly a means of witness," said Asa Meadows, pastor of the church. "We are sharing with our townfolk our basic beliefs and fostering a sense of community."

In groups of 20, visitors will be led along a candlelit trail by a father-son shepherd team _ real sheep included _ to each of the stops where a 10-minute mini-play will be performed.

At one stop, patrons will find shepherds reciting Old Testament prophecies around a giant bonfire. At another, angels will surround the Virgin Mary, explaining to her the significance of her baby's birth. In the palace of Herod the Great, jugglers and dancers will entertain.

And at the last stop, Mary and Joseph will cradle a baby Jesus in a manger while the Three Wise Men look on.

The whole thing starts at a tax collector's booth. The "tax" is simply a non-perishable food item the church will donate to the local food bank.

Congregation members have worked since late last year sewing costumes, buying supplies and rehearsing the script.

Even the script itself is a church product, written several years ago by member Martha Barr. It was performed first in Arizona where Barr lived at the time.

Presbyterian Church of Palm Harbor is at 2021 Nebraska Ave. near the Palm Harbor Public Library. "Search for the Christ Child" will be performed from 6 to 9 p.m.

Because attendance may be heavy, satellite parking is being offered at three nearby churches: Grace Brethren Church of Palm Harbor, 2255 Nebraska Ave.; New Life Missionary, 1912 Nebraska Ave.; and the Lutheran Church of the Palms, 2250 Nebraska Ave. A van will shuttle visitors back and forth to the event.

No one will be turned away _ even those who forget a can of food to pay their taxes.