Cypress Creek United Methodist Church can draw 400-500 people to each of its three Christmas Eve services. But just as important are the 60 folks who show up for the Blue Christmas service, meant for those grieving a loss or dealing with a life-altering issue.
Various Methodist churches throughout Florida plan to host a Blue Christmas ceremony this month to include those who don’t necessarily find cheer during the holidays.
“It has been a small service, but really impactful,” said Bronwyn Bedient, communications director for the Fort Myers church. “People who have attended have told us how meaningful it was and that they were so glad for the opportunity. We’ve had people we have never seen in our church before coming to the Blue Christmas service. That’s fine with us. We are glad to have that.”
Bedient said she is designing a postcard to send those who lost a loved one during the past year. The postcards also will be left with funeral homes and hospice care facilities, places where people might be grieving or experiencing difficult times.
“We encourage people to invite someone. I just had a mom who had friends that had lost a parent this year, and she knew Christmas was going to be hard,” Bedient said.
She is inviting them to the service.
|First Oviedo UMC holds its Blue Christmas service on Winter Solstice.|
First Oviedo United Methodist Church holds its Blue Christmas service on Winter Solstice, also called the Longest Night.
“We do it on that day every year to acknowledge that the Christmas holidays are not all cheery and bright for everyone,” said Pastor Wade Arnold, who oversees pastoral care for the church.
“I’ve also done it at my other churches” in the past. “It is for people who have suffered any kind of loss,” he said. “Those are the folks we invite. They can be dealing with anything.”
The causes of grieving or a heavy heart might divorce, death, the loss of a business, or an illness.
“We also reach out to nursing homes in case they have people who might want to come, either family members or those under care,” Arnold said.
He called it a “really cool service” because it offers hope, even though it can be a somber occasion.
“I really like the way we do it,” he said. “There is no sermon, no homily. We have some readings that acknowledge a person’s loss. We have four different stations a person can go to.
“One station is where people can take communion. Another is where people are anointed with oil.”
People can write a letter to their loved one at the third station. And the fourth station is where members of the Stephen Ministry will pray with them.
The Stephen Ministry is a one-to-one lay caring ministry. Stephen ministers at each church are equipped and empowered to provide confidential and high-quality Christ-centered care to people who are hurting, the same people likely to show up for a Blue Christmas service.
Those attending the service are also invited to light a candle in memory of a loved one.
“We don’t talk as part of the service, but that is another reason to have the Stephen Ministers there for anyone who wants to talk,” Arnold said.
“We invite people to talk with them and connect. We also connect people to a grief share class that starts in the beginning of January. It is once a week for several months.”
Pastor Denvil Farley, with Port Charlotte United Methodist Church, said he finds that people who attend the Blue Christmas service are looking for a new way to do something they’ve done possibly all their lives.
“They are trying to figure out what to do now that things are different,” Farley said. “How are they going to make it through the holidays? It is not always the happiest time of year for everyone.”
As a part of the Port Charlotte service, those attending sing songs connected to loss, but also connected to hope.
“The message is focused around that. We celebrate communion, building on that understanding of God being with us, that Christ is with us,” Farley said. “Then, we have a time to anoint and pray.”
It’s about acknowledging a person’s grief or pain, but also offering the promise of Christ.
“The Christmas message is that there is hope because we are not alone,” Farley said. “In Christ, God came to be with us, and that is the significance of this message.
“Yes, there is loss. Yes, there is grief. There is sadness or whatever kind of emotion you might be feeling. But God is with us, and it gives us the hope and the strength to push through.”
--Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico.