This is a guest column from Our Gra, on the east coast, who attended a “Blue Christmas” service this week. We might could have used one of these for similar reasons last year.
“Blue Christmas” – A Service of Remembrance and Hope
St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Westminster, Maryland
December 21, 2008
Sometimes loss comes with absolutely no warning — the death of a healthy runner on his treadmill, the grandmother who’s infant grandson was left in a burning apartment, the young mother whose son is killed before her very eyes in a horrible wreck. Sometimes there is warning of the disaster via bad news — “I’m sorry, the test is positive.” Sometimes in thinking back we can see the gradual decline, the change in habits, the loss of memory, the sapping of energy.
Not all losses are deaths. A goodly portion of this country has just lost quite a lot of money. All of us know those who have lost jobs, and are wondering if they can keep their homes. A move away from home can destroy a friendship.
In October of this year my husband “Pappy”, a deacon who went to seminary in his late 50s to be ordained, and I, “Sallygra” [aka Our Gra aka MIL in 52 Churches] were basically dismissed from the tiny church we had labored to start and had loved for the last 10 years. We never saw it coming. No chance for goodbyes, no closure, just a character assassination and the assignment to shape up or to ship out within the next 6 months. To leave a church home where we worshiped as often as 6 times a week and which we have considered our purpose in our “retirement” years has been a death to us.
I don’t know if Jen was simply curious about a “Blue Christmas” service or she was simply tired of hearing the gloominess in my tones, but she strongly urged me to attend this service. I came on my own grief and ended up sitting next to my friend whose grandson had been killed in wreck.
The service was a combined ministry of the UCC church and Carroll Hospice. It was led by the associate pastor and the bereavement coordinator for hospice. We were welcomed and congratulated for having the courage to attend. One of the best lines spoken was, “You can be whatever way you feel here. You do not have to be jolly.” All kinds of losses, not just deaths were acknowledged.
The UCC church in town is committed to being inclusive. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here! We are an Open and Affirming Congregation”. They were welcoming in several ways — kleenexes in every pew, seating was in a small intimate chapel with a tree decorated with blue ornaments. There was a Celtic harpist. There was seasonal music. The Randall Thompson “Alleluia” sung after we were encouraged to think of those we loved and missed, was particularly lovely.
Frankly in the presence of griefs that seemed so much greater than mine, I felt that I was whining to be there at all. But since I find this Christmas without a church home one of the more difficult ones I have faced, I was willingly to find healing in whatever way it would come.
We listened to various comments followed by silence after each of the 4 candles of the Advent wreath was lit. “We light this second candle to redeem the pain of loss: the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. As we gather up the pain of the past, we offer it to You, O God, asking that into our open hands you will place the gift of peace.” Frankly, I have very little peace right now, but that would be a wonderful Christmas present. I did not go to the front as others lit candles for their loved ones, it didn’t seem appropriate. But my heart was certainly with them. I also took with me another prayer printed in the bulletin: “Compassionate God, there are those among us who are grieving over what might have been. A death or loss has changed our experience of Christmas. Once it was a special day for us too, but someone has died or moved away. Or we have lost a job, a dream, a goal, a cause. We find ourselves adrift, alone lost. Loving God, hear our prayer. [Italics mine.]
But there is a company in grieving. There is a solace in those come to encourage the mourning. I wouldn’t have a tree this year, if my loving friends had not insisted upon it. We would both be in much greater grief and confusion expect for the love and support of our children and dear friends. Also I know that while time never erases pain, it often eases it.
So if you are in position of needing a “Blue Christmas” service., I’d encourage you to go. In particular, take someone with you who can listen and perhaps even laugh. The service may help. The fact that you are not alone in your pain will help even more.
P.S. No, The Elvis tune was not played, nor did he appear.