Bethlehem descends on Oyen, Alberta

Churches in Oyen, AB, came together to bring to life the Town of Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth.

By Helen Reed

On the evenings of December 6 -7, 2019, the Oyen (AB) Crossroads Agricultural Centre was transformed into a street in ancient Bethlehem.

Approximately 600 visitors were welcomed by the Census taker and entered the town’s courtyard. They were given a map of the area and invited to stroll down a Bethlehem street filled with stores and stories. The stores, excited to have so many visitors, had activities for children. The rope maker, music store, bakery, cookie store and Shepherd Supply store welcomed those who had made the trip to town. Roman soldiers wandered the streets trying to keep order and a Camel was often seen poking into doorways.

The Inns were having trouble keeping up with the newcomers and it may have been that some of the stores would have been offering floors to sleep on for the night!

There were rumours swirling about a special newborn baby in the stable at the end of the street and many ran to see if it was really true. The animals close to the stable were pleased to receive lots of attention too.

In the Synagogue, the Rabbi was seen in excited conversation with a Shepherd who was adamant that Angels had been flying around the sky saying that God’s son was among us. The Rabbi was astounded to be living in a time when the prophecies of ancient scripture appeared to be coming true.

After travelling so far, there were free refreshments provided by the town in the courtyard so that visitors would be well-nourished for their journey home.

Oyen Night in Bethlehem was begun in 2008 and is now held every second year. 2019 was the biggest response to the Census call with visitors from 31 different communities attending.

This collaborative effort by all of the churches in Oyen, including the United Churches of Oyen, Cereal, Acadia Valley and Alsask, is supported by the Oyen Agricultural Society and a huge contingent of volunteers from Oyen and other local communities. Set up begins on Wednesday evening and we are not done until late Saturday night when the last piece of straw is picked up and packed away.

This is an amazing example of what can be done when many people come together for a common goal. Our hope is to give a glimpse of the night that Jesus was born, to remind ourselves of the reason for this season: God’s love coming to teach us how to look after each other.

We also bring that message alive by accepting donations to the Oyen and District Foodbank. Along with donations of food, we received $1,270 to support the Food Bank. 

We will be offering this story again in 2021.  

Helen Reed is Presiding Officer for Chinook Winds Regional Council Executive and minister of Pioneer Pastoral Charge, based out of Oyen, Alberta.