For more than 40 years, city-owned public property in Racine and its municipalities were void of Christian symbolism – there were no Nativity scenes or banners with the words “Merry Christmas.”
One year, Racine-native Bob Wortock, 74, who attends Racine churches, including St. Rita and St. Joseph, had asked different groups, e.g., the Park and Recreation Department board of directors, the Common Council, mayor, Department of Public Works, for permission to erect a 4-by-4-foot Nativity scene downtown, like he remembered seeing as a child.
The answer was always “No,” he said.
That was until 2005 when Wortock approached the Common Council again, this time with a list of 16 churches in Racine that felt the same way.
HOW TO HELP
Join the Community Christmas Coalition Friday, Dec. 5, 10 a.m., for the annual set up of the nativity scene in Monument Square, Racine.
They call themselves the Community Christmas Coalition (CCC), and this marks the 10th year the not-for-profit, non-denominational organization has been at the heart of the Nativity scene and two Christmas banners displayed in Monument Square, the historical center of the city, for a month around Christmas.
Wortock said everyone’s invited to participate in the set up, which will take place on Friday, Dec. 5, or to help with duties like clearing away snow, ensuring the lights are working or helping with whatever needs to be done until it comes down Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.
What began as a 4-foot enclosed Nativity scene with security cameras has grown into a 40-foot wide Nativity scene mounted on a 24-foot trailer, lit up on all four sides thanks to many volunteers, companies and contractors who have offered their time and expertise to improve it throughout the years.
“It was really a community thing,” he said, noting that thousands of people, from Wisconsin and out of state, visit the Nativity each year.
“It’s a symbol, and it’s the unity of churches getting together,” he said.
The CCC is comprised of 21 members, including groups and organizations like the Knights of Columbus and the Siena Center, individuals and churches, including Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.
Everything they do – from setting up the Nativity to the free, community children’s Christmas program with music, coffee, hot chocolate and cookies – is funded by donations, and done by members and volunteers.
But they need “new blood,” from young adults to shut-ins with an hour or a day, according to Wortock, who said the core group consists of about a half-dozen men in their 60s to 80s.
“We’ll always have something that they can do,” he said.
They also need donations – they’ve raised only $450 of the $2,500 minimum needed to help cover the cost of insurance, storage fees, upkeep, towing charges and mailing expenses. They hope to raise twice that to cover the expenses of the free children’s concert, which will be planned sometime in mid-December, and to be able to plan a city-wide children’s Christmas concert indoors next year.
Wortock said the Nativity scene is a blessing in Racine, and one that has spread to other cities.
“The idea here is to try to bring the spirit of Christmas back in fellowship,” he said. “Nobody goes down to the Nativity scene and starts preaching – no – everybody that’s involved, it’s like the Knights of the Round Table … everybody has a voice, whether your church is 500 or 50, you all have an equal voice.”
It’s also a way to evangelize, according to Wortock.
“You never know who you’re going to meet when you go down there; that’s what’s so great about it,” he said. “I tell the churches … this is one small way that you can evangelize.”