‘Blue Christmas' services recognize not all is merry and bright
Advent Lutheran Church photo
Donna Vande Kieft, a chaplain with Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County, speaks while holding a prayer shawl at a past year's Longest Night service at Advent Lutheran Church in Mill Creek.
Advent Lutheran Church photo
A woman wrapped in a prayer shawl reads details of the service during a past year's Longest Night event at Advent Lutheran Church in Mill Creek.
Some churches have started to officially address that reality: Sadness is not uncommon at Christmastime.
"We've all had a time in our life that's a bah-humbug moment," said Mary Case, who is part of the Stephen Ministry at Advent Lutheran Church in Mill Creek.
The church will host a Longest Night service next week to reach out to people struggling with grief, divorce, job loss, illness, depression and other challenges. All are welcome at the service at 7 p.m. Wednesday, which will include prayers, scripture, music and a time for sharing after the church event ends.
Coming just before Thursday's winter solstice, the service is meant to acknowledge winter gloom in the external world and people's darkness within, Case said.
"All of us here in the Pacific Northwest know how dark the days can be -- very depressing," she said. "The service gives light to that. It may be dark, but there's hope."
The Stephen Ministry, she said, "is a listening ministry." After Wednesday night's formal service, there will be time for people to talk with church members. "They can talk about what their hurt or their grief is," she said.
This will be the fourth year for the Longest Night service at Advent Lutheran. One of its proponents and a participant in years past has been Donna Vande Kieft, a chaplain with Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County.
"It is a growing trend," said Case, who said that as many as 200 people have attended the service in years past. Only about 10 percent of them, she said, were members of the church.
At Stanwood United Methodist Church, an annual Blue Christmas service also reaches out to people experiencing loss and sadness. The Rev. Dan Sailer said he also sees many people from the larger community at the Blue Christmas service.
"Last year, most of the people I met there were not at our Christmas Eve service. This was what they needed at Christmastime," he said. This year's Blue Christmas at Stanwood United Methodist is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday.
It will includes a special lighting of the Advent wreath, with messages of comfort. "Later in the service we have a time to come up to the Communion rail and light a candle in memory of a person, or light a candle for someone out of work or a family member who is ill," Sailer said. "It's a symbol of hope."
The timing is fitting not only because of the solstice. Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, he said.
"One of our beliefs is that Christ is the light of the world. At this time, people aren't always feeling the joy. Either because of sadness or worry, the light isn't as bright," Sailer said.
The pastor said the commercialization of the season, especially when many people are out of work, contributes to some feeling left out. "One of the things I have talked about in church is the need to simplify Christmas, and to have a more spiritual experience," he said.
At the Blue Christmas service, Sailor said he gives a short meditation, often about finding comfort and strength in God. During the candle-lighting, he said, some speak the name of a loved one. Others prefer to be silent.
Sailer said he has talked with people after Blue Christmas services about seeking mental health counseling.
"Sometimes they need to talk," he said. "And sometimes the best gift is just to listen."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Services for those
coping with sadness
Two area churches plan services this week for anyone struggling with grief, sadness, illness, job loss or other challenges this holiday season.
Stanwood United Methodist Church Blue Christmas service: 7 p.m. Tuesday, 27128 102nd Drive NW. 360-629-9555.
Advent Lutheran Church Stephen Ministry's Longest Night service: 7 p.m. Wednesday, 4306 132nd St. SE, Mill Creek. 425-337-5373.