Presbyterians Today

NOV-DEC 2018

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Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 21 of others. "The new way we present the service takes the focus off our individual pain or needs, and in service, Brewer and the others leading it assumed that they simply needed to publicize the basics — the name of the event, the time, date, place and so forth. But out of their congregation of 1,500, only about 25 people came. Those who had planned it were a bit disappointed, Brewer said. "It was really meaningful for the 25 who went, but we wondered why more didn't attend," Brewer said. So the following year she tried to better explain the service to the congregation, writing a newsletter article and making announcements about it. She wanted people to know that there was a space for them if they were not feeling the joy or the buzz of cultural Christmas or if it was too much to bear. Again, about 25 people came to the service. "We thought we had put in so much extra effort in publiciz- ing the service that people would come," Brewer said. It was incred- ibly meaningful for those who had attended, but why didn't more people attend? Brewer started asking why people didn't attend. The answer, across the board, was: "I'm not depressed, so I thought the service wasn't for me." Brewer understands. Before becoming a pastor, she may have answered the same. But then she found herself to be the one desper- ately needing such a service, and couldn't find one. "I remember thinking, 'Why don't more churches have these services? I am not the only one out here who feels this way,' " she said. Brewer doesn't want someone else feeling the way she did and not having a place to go. For her, the fact that First Presbyterian Church hosts such a service is a sign of its willingness to care for people in grief, in depression and in the midst of loss — even if those people never actually attend. "Just the fact that we have this service says something. It makes a statement that you are not alone if you are feeling this way," she said. "We as a culture tend to overlook the people who are grieving, who are lonely, especially at this time of year." The service, she says, is a recog- nition that happiness and joy are not the only emotions involved in the season. "The Incarnation is a reason for celebration that God loved us so much that God sent Jesus to be with us, but it is also a reason for celebration that Jesus came to walk with us through the pains of life as well. I wish we could better hold these two messages together," Brewer said. Sharing the grief The Rev. Kirianne Weaver Riehl is a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Ithaca, New York. Though the congregation has a long tradition of hosting a Longest Night service, it has never been well attended, she says. "It is as if, in focusing on the individual, it exacerbated the dis- comfort, the shame, even more for those who found themselves suffer- ing. The small turnout would then make that even more uncomfort- able, leading those who did attend to feel even more like outliers," Weaver Riehl said. Small attendance has plagued the congregation's other services of healing and wholeness. But she has some thoughts on why this is the case. "People are really unwilling to self-identify as grieving," Weaver Riehl said. "People seem to prefer to think of themselves as independent and self-reliant and all those 'boot strappy' words that are part of our American ideal." With this in mind, Weaver Riehl shifted the emphasis from the healing of one's self to the healing COPING WITH HOLIDAY BLUES • Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable. • Make a list and prioritize the most important activities. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. • Remember that the holiday season does not automatically banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely. There is room for these feelings to be present. • Let go of the past. Don't be disap- pointed if your holidays are not like they used to be. Life brings changes. • Do something for someone else. • Enjoy holiday activities that are free, such as driving around to look at Christmas decorations. • Don't be afraid to try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a way you have not done before. • Spend time with people who are supportive and care about you. • Find time for yourself. Don't spend all your time providing activities for your family and friends. Source: The National Mental Health Association

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