Christmas in the Country Remembered

Forty years ago, a very special Christmas Eve service known as Christmas in the Country began a 12 year run in a local barn once owned by Frederick Blaw.

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In 1980, Becky Boehmer, local artist and member of Blawenburg Church, approached Rev. Ken Bradsell with an idea for a special Christmas Eve service that would simulate the ambiance of the original Christmas event in Bethlehem. Ken recalls the way it likely began. “It may well have started as a conversation with Becky Boehmer. They (Becky and Brian Boehmer) were new to the congregation, and I recall Becky was painting a mural on the nursery wall. This meant we had chances to stop and chat. She had lots of creative energy and fun ideas. This one was a winner!”

Becky lived on Bedens Brook Road, not too far from a historic house built by John Blaw’s son, Frederick. She proposed the idea of a service in the 18th century barn to the property owner, Cameron Lonergan. They worked together to establish ground rules, such as no candles. On December 24, the first of over a decade of services took place in Lonergan’s barn.

The barn where Christmas in the Country was held.

The Service

The Christmas story has been told over and over again for thousands of years. The Blawenburg barn service had music and animals, but it also had the core of the message as told through scripture and the reenactment by actors. Typically, youth would be enlisted to play Mary, Joseph, Wisemen, and Shepherds. Some years, there were real babies to play the part of Jesus. Bernice Van Nostrand especially remembers the 1983 service because her newborn grandson, Alan Sweeton, who was just two months old, played the role Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. His mother, Ginny Van Nostrand Sweeton, held him close for the cold service. “He was the warmest one in the barn,” Bernice said recently.

L-R, Two shepherds, identities unknown. Seated are Joseph (Scott DeKleine) and Mary (Ginny Van Nostrand Sweeton) holding baby Alan Sweeton

“As a Youth Group advisor when Ken Bradsell was at the helm,” Barb Reid said, “I remember taking the kids to the barn the afternoon of or day before the service to set the barn up—arrange the bales of hay. Mrs. Lonergan was there to supervise.” The bales of hay provided seats for those in attendance. There was also a cradle for the Christ Child, the star of the Christmas service. Other than that, no other furnishings were needed.