‘Walk Through Bethlehem’ set for today and Sunday

SAMOSET -- Roger Foskey, who portrays the evil tax collector in an annual pre-Christmas event called the “Walk Through Bethlehem,” has got his role down pat.

“You will pay the tax to Rome!” he thundered at a group of actors portraying “the poor” in a re-creation of the town of Bethlehem set up in a courtyard at the Samoset First Baptist Church.

Foskey, 51, of Bradenton, and other church members, who are doubling as actors, spent part of Monday practicing during a dress rehearsal for the event.

The free program offers continuous tours from 5 to 9 p.m. today and Sunday.

“The purpose is to show the community what the true meaning of Christmas is and to start the holiday out,” explained Tammy Bass, director of the program co-sponsored by Samoset First Baptist and Southside Baptist churches.

It takes months of effort and planning to transform the church courtyard at 3200 15th St. E. into a replica of a 2,000-year-old town. In the play, the tour of the town takes place on the night Jesus was born.

“I’m hoping to spread the word of God, and hoping someone can be saved,” explained Connie Avery, 43, of Bradenton, who plays the wife of the innkeeper.

In the biblical story, there is no room at the inn, so Joseph and Mary take refuge in a stable, where the Christ child is born.

To those who come to take the tour, church members serve as guides and show them around the town populated with actors in period dress in costumes made by Susan Weisenborn.

There are Roman soldiers complete with battle gear, a marketplace with shops and commercial stands, even a “synagogue” presided over by Rabbi Dennis Bacon.

The rabbi, who, when he’s not performing, leads a congregation at Beth Israel Messianic Synagogue, in Bradenton, talks about the witness of the Hebrew people and “Yeshua,” which in Hebrew means “Jesus.”

The adult Jesus is played by Jim Holt, 45, who, sheathed in white, asks God to forgive his enemies.

He loves to see the reaction of the crowd, the faces of his audience lighting up with spiritual energy, he said.

“It’s truly a blessing,” he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.