Presbyterians Today

NOV-DEC 2018

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20 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay sanctuary be too festive for such a service? How might the church give those attending a tangible way to express their feelings? How might the church create a space where people would feel comfortable to express their grief ? Some things were obvious, Brewer says, like having Communion. And those active in the church's Stephen Ministry, a ministry focused on caring for the congregation, would read Scripture and be available for private prayer throughout the service. But what about the candles around the Advent wreath? How could one light candles of hope, joy, peace and love when feeling nothing of the sort? "We created a liturgy to extin- guish the candles of hope, peace, joy and love, and then we re-lit them, giving them the new distinctions of hopelessness, fear, grief and loneli- ness," Brewer said. Votive candles were also provided and arranged on the Communion table. Those attending the service were invited to come forward and light a candle whenever in the service they felt moved to do so. Brewer lit hers during the contem- plation of loneliness. Getting the word out As with any new venture, getting the word out to those in the community is important. That is why Brewer prefers using the phrase Longest Night rather than Blue Christmas. "When you hear 'Come to the Blue Christmas service,' you might think it is a service where you will get depressed," she said. "But in the Longest Night you are reminded that even as things get darker, the light comes. You recognize the light of Christ in the service." In the two years that First Presbyterian has been hosting the Longest Night service, several lessons have been learned. The first year they hosted the or other difficulties. In fact, Longest Night services are held on or around the winter solstice — when daylight is fleeting and darkness lingers. For those who find themselves in a long, dark night of the soul, such services can offer a glimmer of light. Caton said a highlight of the service for her was the prayer shawl those attending received. "To me, being wrapped in the prayer shawl signified that people were praying for me, as they prayed over the shawls while they knit them — a symbol of the community praying for one another," she said. For Caton, the Blue Christmas service was a way of acknowledging her grief. It provided her a way to connect with God through her tears. "Sometimes, I think, on Christmas Eve we don't acknowl- edge our pain, as services tend to be more upbeat. But it's hard to be upbeat and happy when you are grieving," she said. "You need to have a space to have the tears and the anger and all of that when you are grieving." A pastor's depression In December 2015, the Rev. Christa Brewer, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, found herself looking for a Longest Night service. She was having a hard time dealing with her own depression. The South Carolina pastor's family is scattered, with most in California and some in Michigan, so the Christmas season can be lonely for her. "There is so much emphasis at Christmas on family, but in 10 years of pastoring, I have only shared Christmas with family members once," she said. So even though she was leading others toward proclaiming "Joy to the World," her own world was diffi- cult. Searching the internet, Brewer figured that some church in the area was bound to have a Longest Night service. She found one, but it was held in early December. There was another, but it was for that very night and she couldn't attend. "It was striking to me how many churches didn't have the service," Brewer recalled. As it came time to plan the fol- lowing year's Advent and Christmas services, Brewer remembered that a retired clergywoman in the congregation had suggested to her that First Presbyterian offer a Longest Night service. So she asked members of the congregation: Is this something that you might want to do? The answer was a resounding "Yes!" The next question was what to actually do. What would the service entail? Would the decorations in the 75% of PC(USA) churches do not offer a Blue Christmas/Longest Night service SOURCE: P C(USA) RESEARCH SERVICES

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