Blue Christmas Service
Sarah Larson, Pastoral Intern-Living Waters Lutheran Church, Sauk Rapids MN
This subject was of particular interest to me because I have felt a strong sense of call to the area of grief ministry. A blue Christmas service is a way to recognize that, while Christmas is a joyous time of year, unrest and pain exists in our communities and in our world that can sometimes make it difficult to find the jolliness in the season.
My context at LWLC was a good fit for this project for several reasons. First, many people in the congregation had experienced loss throughout the year, so grief was definitely present. Second, LWLC already holds Advent vespers services that involve candlelight and quiet meditation. These just seemed to flow and transition very well into the Blue Christmas service, which was held on 12/21 (the winter solstice). And finally, the congregation and my supervisor were always very supportive of trying new things and experimenting with service ideas.
Grief is something that touches everyone, whether it involves the loss of a loved one, loss of employment, loss of health, or any other form of loss. Holding a quiet and contemplative service to recognize and honor those feelings can be very healing, especially right before Christmas. Services like these help others know they are not alone.
The internship project:
What: Blue Christmas candlelight service
Who: Members of LWLC and the community were invited to attend
Where: This service was held right at the church, in the evening on 12/21 (the winter solstice…longest night).
This service was designed to recognize that Christmas does not always feel joyous to some, especially to those who are grieving. The purpose of the service was to focus on the hope and peace that is revealed to us through the ever-present light of Christ.
The hope for this service was to refocus attention on the reason for Christmas…on the hope, the Light of the world, that was born and laid in a manger that first Christmas. The hopeful takeaway for those present was simply that the promise for each of us is the same promise that was born that night. Christ took on our pain and sorrow so we would never have to face it alone.
The service was very well-received the first year, so my supervisor and internship team agreed that we would hold it again the next year. (And because my internship spanned a year and a half, I had the opportunity to complete the project twice!) The second year, we made a few adjustments and included an option for 1:1 prayer following the service for those who desired. Based on feedback from my supervisor, this is a service they would like to continue in future years.
After the first year in particular, I remember watching two elderly women after the service, talking with one another and smiling, and I thought to myself, “Wow, this really does seem to work, and people do connect, and God feels very present in this moment.” Even though the crowd has been relatively small, those who attend have found meaning and purpose in the time of worship, and that makes it all worthwhile.
During the service, those in attendance had the opportunity to come forward and light a candle, representing the Light of Christ that is ever present in our world. In addition, they each received a strip of white cloth, representing the swaddling cloth that wrapped the baby Jesus, the cloth that wrapped Jesus’s body after his crucifixion, and ultimately the cloth that lay folded in the empty tomb. The people were invited to lay their strip of cloth in a wooden manger, representing all of the pain and grief they carry in their lives. This was a physical way of laying their grief in the hands of God. The memory of the congregation joining together to light candles and lay their concerns in the manager is a powerful image I take away from this internship project experience.
I would love to implement this service (if it does not yet exist) in a future call setting. It’s a very visual way to show support to one another and to stand together in times of need.