At a rural Kansas barn, they hear the Christmas story

PRATT, Kan. (BP) -- The setting was simple -- a barn, some bales of hay and a few animals -- much like the story that hundreds in rural Kansas gathered to hear: Jesus was born to be your Savior.

Steve Taylor opened his Bible and read the story of Jesus' birth. There were no actors portraying the scene or breaking out in song. Instead, a group of children sat at the pastor's feet captivated with the story from Matthew and Luke. Their older siblings, parents, grandparents and neighbors listened as they sat on hay bales.

The annual One Night at the Stable, hosted by First Southern Baptist Church of Pratt, Kan., transported attendees back to the night 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born in humble surroundings similar to this old draft horse barn.

"There's kind of a transformation that happens once you pass through the barn door," Taylor said. "Christmas loses the commercialization, the glitz, the glamor and goes back to the basic and simple. We slow down and smell the smells, hear the sounds and see what Christ experienced the night He was born.

"It just doesn't get any simpler than that," the pastor said.

The idea for One Night at the Stable began years ago when Taylor and his family returned from Zimbabwe as missionaries with the International Mission Board to New Mexico. The couple wanted to remind their children that Christmas wasn't about the commercialized version all around them, so they asked a rancher in the church if they could borrow a stall in his stable for one night. They read the Christmas story as the animals settled into the surrounding stalls for the night.

The next year, the rancher's family joined the Taylors. The third year, families from the church joined them for the annual Bible reading. The Taylor family brought this tradition with them to Pratt six years ago.

Justin Gates, chairman of the deacons at FSBC-Pratt, thought Taylor was "crazy" when he asked about a barn to host a Christmas event that first year. It was the middle of winter in Kansas and cold.

"When he explained One Night at the Stable, it felt like a perfect fit for our church and surrounding community," Gates said. "We are mostly agriculture-based and rural. I knew this was something our neighbors and friends would relate to. It's a neat way to share the Gospel."

More than 400 people come each year to Terry Williams' barn just a mile off Highway 54 to hear the story of Jesus' birth. There's nothing special about this beautiful, old barn to attract this kind of attention. The paint is peeling and the Kansas wind whips through the gaps of aged wood. There's no heat, so everyone comes bundled up. If it's too cold outside, a heater is wheeled in and fired up.

Gates' mother, Cindy, a member of FBC-Pratt, reminisced that one year it snowed 12-inches and churches in the community canceled services. Yet, everyone still showed up at the barn to read the Christmas story. The reason, she explained, is that One Night at the Stable is more than a Christmas tradition.

"It brings you to the real spirit of Christmas," she said. "Here you sit in a simple stable reading the Bible. It's so simple that we can all experience it. That's kind of like the Gospel -- it's so simple that we can all experience it."

Justin Gates nodded in agreement, adding that One Night at the Stable reaches beyond church walls. The Kansas farmer pointed to his wife Kristi and another church member, Pam Krehbiel, talking to a woman as her children pet the miniature horse and bucket calf. It was the woman's first time to the gathering. Her four children begged to stay for the second service to hear the story again and maybe even get a Bible so they can read the story at home.

"We get people who won't set foot in church but they will come to a barn. This [simple setting] is what our community knows and relates to," Gates said, taking in the scene around him: Boot-clad men in cowboy hats leaning against the stalls, visiting. Children playing with baby goats and lambs. Young teens gathering around a donkey, petting her as they chat. Women sitting on hay bales, drinking hot chocolate while visiting. Older children lying in the hay, retelling the Bible story to an attentive bucket calf.

"This is what it's all about," Gates said, "sharing the Gospel with our neighbors and friends."

Sue Sprenkle is a writer based in Kansas.
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