Thanks to a stranger traveling through town, Tyler residents have come together for a common goal - to place as many Nativity scenes on front lawns as they can.
Last year, the city was forced to take down its iconic creche at the bandshell in the city park because of a complaint from a person passing through town, said Rhonda Johnson, a Danebod Lutheran Church member.
"The person threatened to file a complaint with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), and the city couldn't afford a lawsuit so they had to take it down," Johnson said.
Duane Gregor, left, holds on to a plaque for Ivan Petersen Nov. 10 at the Danebod gym hall in Tyler.
The news whizzed around town.
"It put a bur underneath everyone's saddle," said Johnson. "The pastor (The Rev. Jennifer Thul of Danebod Lutheran) asked Scott (Johnson's husband), 'What if we had a Nativity scene in every yard?' Then someone put a Nativity scene on the parsonage's doorstep."
"During the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America)'s God's Work Our Hands Sunday, Sept. 8, we asked what kind of a service project should we do," said Thul. "Someone asked if we had the plans from the original one, to remake that. I said, 'Sure, but come and see this one.'"
She showed them the creche that was left on her doorstep. Everyone liked the new Nativity scene, she said.
"Our plan was to make 50," Thul said. "We now have 225."
The effort grew into a multi-congregation effort. The congregations of Danebod and First English came together as well as congregants from other churches.
"We put out a call for lumber," Thul said. "The stable is 1-by-6. We wanted weathered wood. We needed 1-by-10 wood for Mary and Joseph."
The donations have poured in.
"We got a $200 donation from someone visiting Danebod. First English gave us $350," Johnson said. "Paint was donated by the local hardware store. People shopping at craft stores have been bringing us Spanish moss for the hair. Quilters are giving us double knit fabric for the clothes."
Volunteers are getting together after church to crank out the creches. People are sharpening their woodworking skills - getting their saws out, using glue and staple guns. Others are in charge of measuring out the twine for Joseph's head covering.
"What else would we be doing? We would be at our own homes having Sunday dinner," said Johnson. "This has really rejuvenated our Christmas spirit. We are thankful for what that person started. It's gotten the community talking about their faith."
"We turned a negative into a positive," said Thul. "It's absolutely amazing what the Holy Spirit has done."
And what of the original Nativity scene? The plan was to place it on Danebod property, but The Rock Christian Youth Center has stepped up to sponsor an application for a permit to display the Nativity scene at the bandshell. On Nov. 4, the Tyler City Council approved the permit. The Nativity scene will be displayed from Nov. 29 through Dec. 29.
"The city of Tyler has a community bandshell event policy," said City Clerk Barb Powell. "Any resident, business or organization can go before the city council and get a permit to use the bandshell. It's a multi-use facility for the residents' enjoyment."
In addition to the original, Nativity scenes soon will be popping up all over town.
"I'm hoping we can get a lot on Main Street," said Johnson.
People receiving the creches feel uncomfortable not paying for them.
"They say, 'How much does it cost?'" Johnson said. "We say, 'Nothing. Take it.' But they end up giving a donation."
The Nativity committee has money put aside for future use.
"We'll have to do more next year," said Thul.