Poole has participated in Living Christmas Scenes since he was a boy. When he moved back to Sikeston, he suggested the idea to members of the First United Methodist Church, and continues to be a volunteer and act for the Christmas presentation.
And, after a year's absence, when the scenes return Wednesday through Saturday at the church, located at 1307 N. Main St., Poole will be out there again. "All you have to do is be out there one time and see how the scenes affect people. One person saying thank you makes all the work worth while," he said.
Now in its 15th year, the First United Methodist Church's Living Christmas Scenes provide participants and passers-by with a reminder of what the season celebrates, Poole said. Ten scenes created by the church's membership offer a look at the life of Jesus from his birth through his death and resurrection.
The first scene is the walk of Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem, followed by the journey of the three wise men and the Nativity. There are scenes of Jesus as a young boy with his father learning to be a carpenter and one featuring Jesus with the woman at the well. The final five scenes are Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the Last Supper, praying in the Garden of Gesthemane, the Crucifixion and the empty tomb, symbolizing the resurrection.
Associate Pastor Jonathan Cooney, who has been a part of the scenes since 2003, added with the lighting and music, the scenes create a three-
dimensional effect. "It really brings it home in a flesh and blood kind of way."
The production, which can be viewed from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, involves some 100 members of the congregation, from children to senior citizens. Each night there are two sets of actors for each of the 10 scenes, rotating in 30-minute segments before the public and 30 minutes of warming up and relaxing inside.
Cooney described the "performance" as a fun event though the actor must remain still to create the tableaux effect. "Some of the scenes you have someone to talk to as you stand there. In others, it is a reflective time. But either way it is great way to participate in the season," he said.
The weather can be less than ideal but the participants bundle up in warm clothes, which are covered by the costumes. Only once has the production been canceled due to dangerously low temperatures.
"It may be very cold but it is just not Christmas without this production," said Joanne Poole. She has assisted in the Living Christmas Scenes in many ways. Most recently she was working on the props, remaking a halo for an angel before tackling the bigger job of sprucing up the donkey that will appear in the scene with Mary. Mrs. Poole laughed and said she even donned one of the wigs and beards one night to be a disciple in the Last Supper scene.
"It was just amazing, no one is moving and there is the sacred music in the background. It transports you back. You feel like you are part of that time and are portraying someone that really was there," she said. "You can't describe it."
The public appears to be equally as moved. While some drive their cars past the scenes, others choose to walk through. Some bring their cameras to capture a favorite scene.
Viewing typically takes 10 to 15 minutes. As the cars drive north on Kingshighway, signs direct drivers where to turn to begin the tour. Each vehicle is provided a bulletin describing each scene.
Mrs. Poole said she has talked to people who have driven through once and been so moved they went back to the end of the line to drive through a second time. Others, she said, plan visits to Sikeston just to be able to see the scenes.
"It is like you open the Bible to all those pictures you always see but you are going back and reliving what happened," she said. "People come through and get very emotional, especially at the crucifixion - it is so life like."
An average of 120 cars nightly are expected to view the scenes this year. According to Poole, part of the popularity is the ease to viewing. "They don't have to purchase tickets, they don't have to dress up, they can combine it with a night of going to looking at Christmas lights," he said. "It has become a ritual for a lot of people."
While the scenes appeal to the senses with the music and the lighting, Cooney added, for many families viewing the scenes is a quiet time and "it is a chance to just soak in the meaning of the season."