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Blue Christmas: A service of remembrance and hope

By Liz Johnson, Staff Writer

Often called the “winter of our discontent,” the Christmas season can be a time of pain and depression for those who have experienced loss in some form. Memories become unbearable and present experiences are overwhelming.

“In all our lives are moments when we need comfort – tough times when we yearn for consolation and understanding,” said Jane Bartlett, who facilitates the Fourth Tuesday Grief Support Group with Mary Alice Blakeman.

Christmas is a time of year that should be the happiest time for everyone. However, it is also a time of great depression for a number of reasons.

“We may hear the message that we must spend, spend, spend – often with funds we do not have,” said Bartlett. “We can feel guilty at Christmas if we’re not full of happiness and joy.

“That message just does not resonate in the hearts of some who have suffered loss.”

Bartlett said that death is not the only life event that brings grief. A number of events that include the loss of a loved one, divorce, illness, the loss of a job or losing one’s home can lead to grief.

Grief leads to depression and sadness.

“And we find ourselves struggling to get through the holidays,” Bartlett said.

The Blue Christmas Service, set for 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 20, at United Christian Presbyterian Church, is designed for those who are struggling to acknowledge the blue feelings they have at Christmas.

“It can be anything that can interfere with remembering God bursting forth in the birth of Jesus,” said Pastor Jeromey Howard, of UCPC. “This service allows us to express our grief.”

During the service, prayers are offered for different things, such as events out of our control, issues of mental or physical health, job loss, financial concerns, insurmountable debt and grief.

The service offers a measure of comfort in knowing you are not alone in your suffering and that God is there to bring solace and peace into a troubled heart. Guests are invited to reflect on the pain they are feeling, loneliness and sadness, and offer it up to God for healing and transformation.

“Society has set up a definition of what it means to be in the Christmas season,” Howard said. “It’s hard to hold that intention if you’re depressed. This service is a moment to honor that.”

The service includes a time of silent reflection. A basket with pencils and paper is distributed in which a person may write about his/her loss or sadness on paper and place it in the basket. Those papers are turned over to God – a form of acknowledging the blues.

“It’s a way for us to tangibly put those things down,” said Howard. “For God.”

A candle-lighting litany of remembrance is also part of the service in which a candle is lit and followed by a prayer for specific issues so common this time of year.

The Blue Christmas Service began three years ago as a way for those suffering depression can gather with others to share sadness, employ a time of quiet reflection and share in the good news of God is with us.

The service is open to anyone and will replace the usual Fourth Tuesday Grief Support Group meeting in December.

“The message of Isaiah and the good news of the Gospel are that no matter what happens to us, God is there to comfort and support us,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett and Blakeman will remain after the service to meet with anyone in need of support.

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