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If it feels like you don't know where you're going, that's okay. Here's something that can help you reflect on what God might have in store for you and your congregation.
Issue 12: December 2021

There Was No Room In the Inn,
But Everyone Was Welcome at the Manger
By Cathy Wille

I remember learning the inn-and-manger part of the Christmas story from my earliest days in Sunday School. For me, the story evokes Christmas music, my favorite part of Christmas, which tells the story in many creative ways.

“Away in a Manger” tells us that the “cattle are lowing, the baby awakes.” “The Little Drummer Boy” tells of a youngster whose gift to Jesus was to playing his drum. “The Friendly Beasts” tells of the donkey, sheep and dove who offered their gifts to the child. In the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” a handicapped shepherd boy joins the three kings and the other shepherds who come to adore the newborn child. “Some Children See Him,” by Alfred Burt and Wihla Hutson, lifts up the way each of us first sees Jesus through our own eyes: “The children of each different place will see the Baby Jesus’ face like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace, and filled with holy Light….” The second verse concludes: “And ah, they love him too.”  

All of the pilgrims were welcome, and there was room for them at the manger. 

When I reflect on the UCC motto -- “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” – I’m reminded that we re-enact the manger story every Sunday. Then, as I reflect further, I wonder how the animals, the drummer boy, kings, shepherds and Amahl all could relate to Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph were in their ancestral home of Bethlehem. The kings came from the East and the shepherds from the fields. A variety of animals (as far as I know, no one talked “cow” and “dove) apparently could all be present to one another.  How was that possible? It probably was not unlike what we are experiencing now as we try to relate to on another in today’s polarized society. Everyone seems to be speaking a different language. 

Reflecting further, I realized that there may be a message in this openness of the manager. All who came followed the bright star. They all came to bring their adoration to the newborn child. They ALL had common purpose, which may have allowed them to be present to one another as they experienced the Christ in the child and the Christ in themselves. 

Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could be present to one another in the same way, even to people with whom we have nothing in common or with whom we disagree? In 1993, I came across an organization called Study Circles Resource Center. I kept one of their worksheets, which had been adapted from a paper prepared by Shelley Berman based on discussions of the Dialogue Group of the Boston Chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility. The document was called “A Comparison of Dialogue and Debate.” 
The document compares the posture of dialogue and the posture of debate. For example, dialogue is to collaborate: Two or more sides work together toward common understanding. Debate is oppositional: two sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong; In dialogue one listens to the other side(s) in order to understand, find meaning, and find agreement. In debate, one listens to the other side in order to find flaws and to counter its arguments. Dialogue opens the possibility of reaching a better solution than any of the original solutions. Debate defends one’s own positions as the best solution and excludes other solutions. 

Is it possible that if we were present to one another from the Christ in us to the Christ in others with a posture of “dialogue,” we, too, might experience the gift the Christ child brought to us at Christmas -- the gift Mary and Joseph received and shared with the diverse pilgrims who came to worship their child?
  • Which of the dialogue/debate postures would challenge the people you live with and serve? 
  • Which of the dialogue/debate postures would you explore with your congregation as ways to relate to one another? 
  • How might we move (or how have you moved) from debate to dialogue? 
  • What star are you following?
Allain, Brian; McLaren, Brian; Palmer, Parker,, How to Heal Our Divides: A Practical Divide,, 2021. 

From the Amazon summary: Recent times have put a spotlight on the deep divisions in our society. Much has been written that acknowledges and describes racial, political, religious, and other divides, but there is little practical information on what can be done about them. How to Heal Our Divides highlights organizations that are taking real action to address these issues and heal divides in effective and practical ways. See how you can help make the world a better place. 
Join the Discussion: Exploring Dialogue and Debate
The Supportive Ministries Team hosts a monthly discussion on topics from this newsletter. The next one, "Language of Community: Dialogue rather than Debate," takes place on Jan. 5 at 1:00 p.m. Central time on Zoom.

Please join us for a discussion on the comparison between dialogue and debate, from Cathy's article above.

Conference Supportive Ministries

In addition to the direct support to pastors and congregations provided by Wisconsin Conference staff, here are some of the supportive ministries congregations can take advantage of. Follow the link below to learn more about this programs and how your church might benefit.
  • Conflict Transformation
  • Coaching Partners
  • Grants and assistance programs
  • Communities of Practice for Clergy or Faith Formation
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations
  • Readiness 360
View a comprehensive list with more information about Supportive Ministries offerings.
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Supportive Ministries Task Force
Through this communication, the Wisconsin Conference Supportive Ministries Task Force provides articles, discussion guides and other resources for clergy and congregations on coping and thriving as we navigate the current turbulent waters. Supportive Ministries Task Force members from top left are Bob Ullman, Lisa Hart, Bonnie Andrews, Cathleen Wille and Tim Perkins.
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