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Blue Christmas services a comfort for many

December, 2001

By Tiffany Vail
For many people, the approaching Christmas holiday does not bring with it the joy and happiness that is advertised on television or in greeting cards.

Copyright 2001/Getty ImagesThey may be facing a holiday after the death of a loved one or after a divorce. Perhaps they have been unable to have a child, or have suffered through an emotional trauma. Or perhaps they feel pressured and overwhelmed by holiday preparations.

In recent years, many churches have attempted to reach out to people who feel such burdens by adding Blue Christmas services to their worship offerings.

These services have a more quiet, somber feel then a traditional Christmas worship service. Scripture, music and meditations or sermons focus on the comfort God offers during dark times.

“For people who are grieving or who are in some kind of pain there is so much of this forced joyfulness at Christmas,” said Cynthia Maybeck, pastor of the Trinity Church of Northboro. “There is no sort of sacred place for grieving.”

Maybeck started holding Blue Christmas services years ago while serving the Bethany United Christian Parish in Worcester. She initially got the idea from the Whole People of God curriculum, which includes a litany for a Blue Christmas service.

“I was aware of how much the pastoral care intensifies in the advent season. There seemed to be this dissonance in my pastoral care and the liturgy that needed to be evident in worship around Christmas,” she said. “I liked the idea of finding a liturgical piece that felt more in line with what some people are feeling.”

Jeanne Marechal, pastor of the Second Congregational Church of West Boxford, said she started the services at her church last year after the congregation was hit hard by several deaths.

Related links:

Worship Outline for a Longest Night Service

Trinity Church, Northboro

First Congregational Church of Somerville, UCC

Evangelical Congregational Church, Grafton

“We had a 21-year-old young man who died after a long battle with a rare form of cancer, and another gentleman who had been instrumental in the church who also died,” she said. “It seemed the time was right.”

In Northboro, the service is called a Service of Light. Other churches refer to it as the Longest Night service, because it is traditionally held on or near the winter solstice – literally, the day with the shortest amount of daylight. This year, the solstice falls on December 21st.

“As a culture we really have kind of forgotten why it is that cultures across the world have festivals of light this time of year,” said Heather Kirk-Davidoff, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Somerville, UCC, which holds a Longest Night service. “It is really dark, and it’s really a hard time for a lot of people. It’s the end of the year, the ending of things, and there’s a lot of grief in that.”

“So often we focus on the light, but we don’t focus on the light in the darkness,” she said. “This is the only service I know of where churches acknowledge just how dark the dark is.”

Blue Christmas services include an emphasis on candles, with people in the congregation invited to come forward and light a candle in memory of someone or to mark an event in their lives. Some will say words out loud, others in silent prayer. Candles are also sometimes lit as prayers or Scripture readings are recited.

Susan Dickerman, Associate Conference Minister for Leadership Development, said she has heard from a greater number of pastors than usual this year who have been looking for resources on Blue Christmas services.

“Given the events of September 11th, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the downturn of the economy, many pastors feel there will be a greater need for this type of service this season,” she said.

The Evangelical Congregational Church, UCC, in Grafton began doing a Blue Christmas service years ago, and now hosts an ecumenical one.

Pastor Duane Brown said the service does not draw a big crowd – perhaps 25 or 30 come – but he said those who come are very grateful.

“People really appreciate an opportunity to respond to what they are going through in this season,” he said. “That is the message that has been consistently heard by those of us involved.”

Marechal has received the same response in West Boxford.

“I received several letters from people who are not members of the church who told me it was very much needed,” she said.

Barbara Huber, a member of the Somerville church, said the service is comforting even for those people who have not lost a loved one or otherwise gone through some type of trauma. As the sexton of the church, she had gone to the church last year to clean the sanctuary, thinking the Longest Night service would be in the chapel. When she found the service was instead in the sanctuary, she decided to stay.

“I thought it was for people who were lonely or who would normally be alone,” she said. “I have five children and five grandchildren, so that wasn’t the case for me.

“But it was a very quiet, mellow service – it was just so refreshing. It gave me a chance to chill out for a while, which you can really use at that time of year.”

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