Bethlehem Star Lighting
On December 3, a star shined brightly again over the community of Bethlehem, after having experienced devastating hurricane damage in the fall of 2017. The new Bethlehem Star was a beneficiary of the NC Synod’s Peeler Casey Funds which represented 20% of funds raised. This project started with a Peeler Casey grant and we ended up raising over $40,000 from the community for this project. Mt. Pisgah Lutheran Church in the Bethlehem community (Hickory) was a primary partner in the effort to rebuild the star. Over 1200 people attending the star lighting on December 3—rescheduled from the previous Saturday due to the snow storm: a joyous occasion!
The Bethlehem Star has been in place, in some form, since 1977. Promoted in USA Today and Our State magazine, over thousands have traveled to take part in the lighting of the Bethlehem star at the start of the Christmas season. The tornado damage done to the Bethlehem Star left our communities of Alexander, Catawba, and Caldwell counties without a star to shine over the only Bethlehem community in North Carolina.
The expression and sense of disappointment from so many, provoked by the lack of a star to shine over Bethlehem for Christmas in 2017, motivated the Bethlehem Community Development Association (BCDA) to reach out for a leader to chair a committee, not yet created, to recruit resources, plan, build, and fundraise for a new star.
The decreasing membership of the BCDA and the size of the task involved to raise a new star, required more manpower than was thought available. Pastor Mike Stone, of Mt. Pisgah Lutheran Church, (which historically has served as the location of the star only with occasional hosting duties), was approached for assistance with the planning, fundraising, and development of a timeline.
During the summer of 2018, Pastor Mike first met with the pastors of all the Bethlehem community churches to determine the interest in uniting with the goal to see this star shine again over Bethlehem. From there, past participants in the Bethlehem Star Lighting events, current and former members of the BCDA, congregation and community members, as well as the general public, were invited to meet.
The first public meeting, on August 21st, brought together the largest group of people the previous committees for the star lighting event had ever seen! And thus, the “Raising the Star” committee was born!
In no uncertain terms, could we, the members of the committee, have anticipated the response to the call to “Raise the Star!”
The committee spoke with Rick Carpenter, Bethlehem resident and owner of Carpenter Decorating, for potential design ideas. Carpenter agreed that his company would design, construct, and erect a new Bethlehem Star at a very significantly reduced rate. This significant gift by Rick Carpenter expedited the process for obtaining a new star which will withstand the ravages of weather for decades to come.
From that point on, things began to move very quickly! The committee started with almost nothing to fund this project. A grant from the NC Synod, ELCA was applied for and a media campaign was started with appeals made to local churches, businesses, organizations, and the public, utilizing church announcements, local newspapers, email broadcasts and social media pages and posts to raise awareness for this project.
We were not prepared for the outpouring of support—financial and otherwise—that this project and event would inspire.
Kinley Rasmussen, an eight-year-old girl was one of the first contributors to the “Raise the Star” fund. She came to Pastor Mike with her $2.00 donation, very concerned that, she explained, “Without the Star, Santa may not find us!”
Much sooner than expected, we reached our projected goal for the costs of this project, yet the contributions kept coming in. It was decided that any contributions over costs would be put in an escrow account to fund the Star Lighting events of the future.
Speaking of costs… that was another surprise! Contractors reduced their prices, some working for free—one, the crane owner/operator, left with nothing more than a “God Bless You!” as he walked away with his dog and his crane after lifting and mounting the star on November 17.
We have so many of these stories, stories of people going out of their way to do what they can, donate what they can (did I mention two 13 ft Norway Spruce trees?), stories and posts from folks that have moved away, only to tell us how important the star was to them, how they miss it, and wish they could be here, and will we do a Facebook Live? (We did!) We can also tell you the story of a man who put his energies into this project, instead of into despair, after just, just losing his beloved wife in October.
The committee, churches, community, businesses, and organizations, have come together to raise much more than $30,000!
Remember, we started with almost nothing—no manpower, no money, no star. Bethlehem is a small community with a great big love for this Star!
–story submitted by Susan Lydick Greene; publicist, Mt. Pisgah, Hickory