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Church takes a journey to Bethlehem, figuratively
Gainesville First United Methodist Church begins to study season of Advent early
Richard Puckett, lead associate pastor at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, teaches a class about Joseph during the Advent study Wednesday night. - photo by J.K. Devine

‘The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem’

When: 6-7:15 p.m. Wednesdays through Dec. 11

Where: Gainesville First United Methodist Church, 2780 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville

Cost: Class free, book is $10

Contact: or 770-536-2341


For 30 years, Dee Snow taught her elementary school students the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. Now retired, she has returned to learning the basics — the Bible basics that is.

To that end, the 86-year-old recently joined an Advent study at Gainesville First United Methodist Church to re-examine the stories of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and the angel Gabriel and their roles in the birth of Christ. The Rev. Terry Walton, senior pastor of Gainesville FUMC, said the church selected the study as a way to prepare for Advent, which is the four Sundays before Christmas in the Protestant faith.

“We felt this year, we wanted to be prepared for Advent,” he said after the Nov. 6 class. “Christmas almost overtakes Advent. If we prepare, then the celebration is all the more meaningful. With Advent, you are prepared for that celebration. So why not prepare for Advent?”

About 40 people decided to prepare for Advent by attending the first class, which uses the book ‘The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem” written by Adam Hamilton. Nearly as many showed up for the second installment, including Dee Snow.

“Being a teacher, I love to learn,” the Gainesville woman said. “What amazes me is, what I find interesting now to what I didn’t find interesting then.”

Some of those intriguing points Snow has wondered about are the ages of Mary and Joseph. During the first class, she learned scholars have guessed Mary’s age to be 13 years old. Joseph’s age, however, is disputed.

“It doesn’t say if he’s young or not,” said Richard Puckett, the lead associate pastor at Gainesville FUMC, who taught the second Wednesday night class.

Puckett explained some scholars place Joseph’s age between 14 and 16 years old. Others believe he was 93, according to a video accompanying the book. Adam Hamilton, who narrates and appears in the video, encourages class members to examine the Joseph in nativity scenes to see if he is young or old.

Gainesville resident Wayne Stradley said the questions and information Hamilton shares is opening his eyes.

“It is going back to the basic word,” he said. “I like hearing the difference between the gospels of Matthew and Luke. A lot of things I haven’t heard before about the same story.”

Puckett and Walter, who take turns teaching the class with other church staff, noted the gospel of Matthew focuses on Joseph while the gospel of Luke focuses on Mary. The class can also connects with Jesus’ parents by seeing their hometowns of Nazareth and Bethlehem, because the video was filmed there.

“If you can’t go (to Israel), you have a visual of (Adam Hamilton) standing there,” Walton said. “It solidifies that this really happened.”

When Stradley’s wife, Judy Miller, heard the Advent study was based on Hamilton’s book, she decided to join the class. The Gainesville woman explained she used to live in a town near Hamilton’s church in Leawood, Kan. She also admitted the unique aspect of the study focusing on the parents of Jesus lured her in, too.

“We are used to hearing about baby Jesus,” Miller said. “But we learn this has been planned for hundreds of years.”

Class members aren’t the only ones who learn something new. Walton admitted to hearing a new insight to the gospel of Luke.

“(One person) mentioned it’s the first time the trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit) is mentioned,” he said. “I never thought of that. It’s all encapsulated. And I just love getting their input.”

Church member Dee Snow loves it all. Her classmates agree.

“We all learn from this one,” Mary Myers said, pointing at Snow seated beside her.