One week before last year’s annual Christmas pageant, we were sorting out props and costumes for all our children at Trinity United in Elmira, Ont. Two-year-old Jace was delighted to get into his cow costume and happily trod around the sanctuary.
Preschoolers Ellie, Dominic, William and John were smiling sheep overseen by their caring shepherd, Landon. Edwin, with his contagious enthusiasm, was a joyful wise man. Tall, willowy Audrey practically floated as a beautiful angel. Our older boys, Brandon and Lucas, poured themselves into their roles as busy servants at the inn. Zoe, 7, with her unbridled confidence, had a commanding presence as the harried innkeeper.
But we had no Mary and Joseph. Or rather, we had no Joseph and two girls who both wanted to be Mary. What should we do?
Earlier that fall, we had heard about homophobic graffiti spraypainted on walls and sidewalks at two United churches in nearby Waterloo, Ont. We wondered how we could offer support and encouragement for the affected congregations. Just as Parkminster and Emmanuel United responded in love, we would, too. We decided two Marys would be just fine.
On the day of the pageant, when the time came for Mary to deliver, Isobel and Gracie stood at the back of the sanctuary eyeing the distance to the inn. Dressed in blue bathrobes stuffed with pillows, they half-ran up the aisle, brimming with excitement. They quickly mounted the steps to the manger, and with backs turned away from the congregation, removed their pillows. They plopped one baby Jesus into the manger and then sat down, one on either side, to gaze lovingly at their child. Their joy at the delivery escaped in contagious giggles.
There was so much delight in the occasion that the cows and sheep scooted over for a closer look at the baby Jesus. With our large manger, they had to grasp the side and peer over the edge. But the temptation to touch was too much. They stood up, grabbed handfuls of straw and scattered it like confetti all over the carpet.
Concerned parents began creeping up from their pews to try to stop them, but the children ran from them and continued to scatter the straw with wild abandon. They refused to be corralled. Eventually, their parents threw up their hands and gave in to the delight.
Something beautiful was taking place. Our plain, old sanctuary had transformed into a messy inn, ready to welcome new life with all its chaos and joy — and ready to welcome people of all sexual orientations. It was a moment treasured by everyone who gathered: sweaty toddlers in costumes, greyhaired congregation members smiling knowingly at the children’s antics and relieved parents who, for at least once that Christmas season, could simply surrender and go with the flow. And so it was that morning, as has been celebrated for the past 2,000 years: justice, peace, hope and love for all were ushered in.
Rev. Sue Campbell is in ministry with the people of Trinity United in Elmira, Ont.
This story was originally featured in The United Church Observer's December 2018 edition with the title "A modern Nativity." To read more of The Observer's award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today.
Get The Observer’s latest stories on justice, faith and ethics by signing up for our e-newsletter. It only takes a few seconds to join and we’ll deliver award-winning content to your in-box.