|Personal stories behind Nativity sets enhance exhibit |
Church member Emily Thomas shows off one of the more than
100 Nativities on display at First United Methodist Church in Tullahoma,
UMNS photos by Terry Bulger.
By Terry Bulger*
Dec. 14, 2007 | TULLAHOMA, Tenn. (UMNS)
One hundred Nativity scenes, including 3,000 individual pieces, fill three rooms of First United Methodist Church.
The Nativity sets on display range from classic porcelain to paper cut-outs
created by children.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, along with three gift-carrying wise men,
camels, cows and shepherds, are displayed in a variety of ways. Replicas
of the participants in the first Christmas range from classic porcelain
figurines to paper cut-outs. Most of them once graced the living rooms
of church members.
As beautiful as the displays are, the real reward for visitors comes in hearing the personal stores accompanying them.
Jack and Christie Cullpepper are 85 years old. They talk softly about
the history of their manger scene. It’s a prized possession and has
been part of their life since shortly after getting married in 1944.
Jack remembers those were hard times.
"That first year, we had baloney sandwiches for our Christmas dinner,
that’s all we had," Jack says. Buying a Nativity scene was out of the
question; if they wanted one, Jack would have to make it himself. "I
found an empty lettuce crate behind a grocery store and figured I could
probably do something with this," he says. "It’s not worth a nickel, but
it means everything to us."
"I think it’s a work of art," Christie adds with pride while standing
next to her husband. "He knew how much I wanted one, and we didn’t even
own tools then, but he went to the neighbor, borrowed some and went to
His creation has been their Christmas centerpiece for more than 60 years.
Jack Cullpepper created this Nativity out
of a lettuce box in 1944, when times
were hard and buying a set was out of
"In a way, we’re amazed it has lasted that long. I’ve had to re-glue
it a few times. Once in a while one of the grandkids will kick the
rails," Jack says.
"(It) brings back memories of the pleasant times we’ve had at Christmas," Christie adds.
To Iraq and back
A six-inch shed with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus wouldn’t be worth
much at a garage sale, but the story accompanying the simple scene would
make it a centerpiece in any collection.
Army Capt. Robbie Sipes spent last Christmas in Iraq. "I remember
driving around thinking, ‘I’m thousands of miles from family but really
close to where Jesus was born.’"
Sipes grew up attending Sunday school classes at First Church. He had
great memories of Christmas as a child and had a special fondness for
the child-friendly Nativity scene that was part of his family’s holiday
During one mail call, thanks to his parents, that same Nativity set
arrived at his Iraq barracks. He set the crèche on a footlocker next to
his bunk bed, and suddenly December in the desert felt a little like
"Everyday’s the same there; it doesn’t feel like the holidays," Sipes
says, "but having something to remind you that it’s Christmas was so
helpful. It lifted my spirits every day just knowing that it was there."
Army Capt. Robbie Sipes displayed this nativity in his barracks during his deployment to Iraq last year.
Tullahoma church organizers never expected the display to bring with
it such personal stories. Oral histories are now part of the tradition
they started in 2003.
"That’s the beauty of this display," says longtime church member
Emily Thomas, "it’s a little bit of everything – people sharing their
priceless items and others showing off their ones made out of paper."
*Bulger is a television correspondent for WSMV-TV, an NBC affiliate in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Nativities Tell Christmas Stories
Latino Christmas Journey
Pastor's Nativity sets reflect universality of Christmas story
Christmas story figures enhance Advent lessons
Las Posadas celebration reaches Montana
Children in New York, Bethlehem, exchange Christmas cards
Christmas in Africa is family time
First United Methodist Church of Tullahoma
GBOD: Advent Resources