Unseasonably cold and wet weather saw the shepherds, the wise men, the angelic choir and a young calf which was getting cold crowding into the stable with Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. That was the first year!
But far from being put off the idea, the folk at Massey Presbyterian Church have grown and improved their Christmas Drive-Through year by year to the point where it has become a regular part of Christmas to those who live in their corner of West Auckland.
The drive-through is run for four consecutive nights every year in the week or two before Christmas.
The initiative for this annual event came from members Dan and Kaylynn Mills. “We were looking for something that would involve the whole church and help us start thinking outside our walls. It has proved to be a great way for us to start making contact with our community!”
At first it was a more like a display of Christmas tableaux, but with live people and animals. Over time it has developed into a 'moving drama' with a growing cast needing 45 costumes.
“The purpose of the drive-through is to point to Jesus as the meaning of Christmas,” explains Dan. “It's a simple introduction to the Christmas story for those that don't know it, and it's a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas for those of us that do.”
The entire drive-through experience lasts about 5 minutes. The church's driveway entrance loops past the church and then back to an exit on Don Buck Road, a very busy thoroughfare and major feeder road for the Westgate shopping centre.
Cars that choose to take the Christmas Drive-Through slowly drive past four stations. The first station is 'The Shepherd's Field'. When a car comes by, a little drama is enacted. Angels jump out and say to the shepherds, “Great news! God has come down to be born as a baby and you will find Him lying in a manger!” The shepherds then get up and run to the inn (station 2), from where the innkeeper leads them to the stable (station 3). This sequence takes about 20 seconds, but in this time another group of shepherds has taken the place of the first to begin the sequence for the next car. In fact there are four groups of shepherds doing relays to begin the drama for each new vehicle coming through.
Past the stable one then comes upon the choir, who are singing along to carols they have pre-recorded. “The first year we had the choir singing live the whole time, and long before the end everyone had lost their voice!” reminisces Dan. Next is the 'desert oasis', featuring the wise men gazing at the star above the stable (with a llama dressed up as a camel!)
Each car is given a leaflet upon arrival that gives a brief explanation of each station, and also directs them to a website where the story is told in more detail. On the website you can also leave comments, ask for a call or visit, request a DVD, or link to www.whoisjesusreally.com where the Gospel is explained to them.
At the exit booth each car is given candy canes, a church fridge magnet and a booklet for kids produced by the Bible Society.
It appears the fridge magnet works! Someone came through the drive-through last year, went home and put the magnet on her fridge, where it seemed to grab her attention more and more. She began attending the church in July and now she is part of this year's Drive Through committee. What is more, her husband assisted with producing this year's flyers!
Kaylynn reflects on how this annual project has been good for the church. “We share a vision for how we can be reaching out as a church and there's a buzz and excitement about the place. Also, people on the fringe now have a place where they can fit – maybe they can't preach or teach, but they can paint, sew, build or cook. They are given an outlet that helps reach the world for Jesus.” In fact over two-thirds of the congregation are involved in some way.
The project has also drawn in others who do not attend the church but who want to contribute their expertise, and businesses in the area have been happy to contribute offcuts and spare paint.
“What's also great is seeing young and old, and folk from very varied ethnic backgrounds working together to make it happen. More than 20 cultures are represented in our church and we try to reflect that in our Drive Through,” says Dan.
Why do they think the Drive Through has become so popular with the public? Kaylynn suggests a reason: “I think the key is that it is free, and only takes 5 minutes. Also, they never have to leave their car, so they feel safe. Most of those coming through wouldn't think of attending a church service in a strange building. This gives us such a great opportunity to talk about Jesus in a secular world!”
First year (2004)
Last year (2008)