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Pint-sized Bethlehem on display at Salem First United Methodist

David Peterson, a member of Salem First United Methodist Church, looks over his model of the city of Bethlehem with Addie George, 1, and Michael George, 3, the grandchildren of Pastor Doug George and his wife, Joyce, and of Fred and Yvonne Bennett. Peterson built part of the model last year but this year added several new features, such as King Herod’s palace, a fisherman in a boat and a marketplace. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

SALEM — Many churches display a nativity showing baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph this time of year, but Damascus resident David Peterson felt compelled to do more.

Think “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and scenes from the Bible.

That’s what Peterson created in a 3-D model inside Salem First United Methodist Church on South Broadway.

“I really felt led to do it, something that could bring the Christmas story to life for people,” he said.

All the familiar places read about or heard about during the Liturgy are there, from the stable where Christ was born to the inn where there were no rooms and even King Herod’s palace where the Magi from the East inquired about the birth of a King. There are several homes, a temple with a symbolic purple curtain, a marketplace and even a fisherman in a boat near the shore.

This photo depicts the city of Bethlehem created by Damascus resident David Peterson for the Christmas season. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

“It’s a great depiction of the Gospel,” Pastor Doug George said.

He especially liked the fact that King Herod’s palace was included. Peterson said Herod played an integral part in the story, killing the first-born males after hearing there was a child born who was to be King of the Jews.

The three wise men, or Magi, had told him they wanted to pay homage to the child and were instructed to send word when they found the child so he too could pay homage but they decided to go home a different way after seeing the infant and receiving a warning not to go back to Herod. Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus fled Bethlehem, foiling Herod’s plot.

George said the model offers insight into the scripture.

“It’s more than just pretty, it’s historically accurate, it’s true,” he said.

Tucked away in the back of the city of Bethlehem display is the stable scene with the baby Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph, a seemingly ordinary scene of extraordinary consequence. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

Peterson is a member of the church and his wife Linda is the organist. He was a florist for 28 years and then worked at the Spread Eagle Tavern for 15 years. Now he’s one of the owners of Brown Funeral Home in Salem and Gednetz-Ruzek-Brown Funeral Home in Sebring, along with Christopher Brown.

He actually first built part of the model last year for Christmas, but this year added a lot more to the display, such as the palace, the marketplace and the fisherman.

The buildings look very stone-like, but it’s nothing but cardboard boxes, styrofoam packing scraps, packing materials for urns, lots of glue and some paint with sand mixed in to give the appearance of stone. The figurines came from multiple manger sets and some of the trees are actually weeds from Peterson’s property. There’s even a pair of cheap earrings in the palace and pair of couch cushions painted to look like stone.

He pictured everything in his mind and started building the pieces over several months. He purposely placed the stable in the back corner, saying “it was an insignificant event that day for most people, an insignificant event that changed the world.”

He wanted to convey that everybody in town was just going about their day, showing people inside the homes, at the marketplace and in the streets. He said they didn’t realize the significance of what had happened.

King Herod’s palace is seen on a hill behind a temple with purple curtains and a typical looking home on the left. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

He did some research on how buildings may have appeared. His biggest disappointment was how the water turned out. He used a resin that was supposed to harden to look like water, but it leaked out.

Peterson said people really seem to like the Bethlehem model and kids love it. Everybody’s so busy all the time, he said people need to just stop and think about why Christ was born. He was born to die for all. That makes Peterson feel humbled by God’s love.

“I just feel like we’re so blessed, we just need to celebrate that blessing and share it as much as we can,” he said.

A fisherman comes to shore in a boat at the edge of Bethlehem. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

Bethlehem model creator David Peterson added a lot of detail to the marketplace scene. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

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