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For some, Christmas brings painful memories instead of joy

For some, Christmas brings painful memories instead of joy

Missions and Outreach Worship

Modern culture tells us that Thanksgiving and Christmas are the happiest times of the year, but, of course, we understand that’s not universally true. Local Pastor Nicholas Lee of Harvest UMC in Lakewood Ranch knows first-hand how painful this time of year can be.

His father, Patrick Lee, died shortly before Thanksgiving in 2009. Thirteen years later, the loss still hurts, especially at this time of the year. 

Pastor Nicholas Lee

Pastor Lee’s father was just 53 years old when he died of colon cancer. He was an avid runner and, as Pastor Lee said, “He was always just a healthy guy.” 

He died not long after the diagnosis.

Many Florida churches understand that feeling of loss doesn’t ever go completely away and have held Blue Christmas services to let those who find the holidays painful know they are not alone. However, with many churches experiencing budget problems related to the pandemic, it could be hard to assist those experiencing emotional pain during the holidays.

That’s where Rev. Janet Earls comes in.

In addition to her work as the Director of Church Vitality and Leadership Development for The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Earls serves on the prayer team at the Conference office.

The team receives requests directly from someone or by e-mail, and as the holidays grew closer, she noticed something disturbing.

“We’re seeing some very heavy prayer requests,” she said. “Coming toward the holidays, it’s clear not everyone is jolly,” she said.

Rev. Janet Earls

“It could be the loss of their home, a job, or a loved one. There are health challenges or a broken relationship. Not everyone is joyful at Christmas.”

This was just in the Conference building. When Rev. Earls began to focus on the potential scope of the problem across the expanse of Florida, she considered how the Conference office might help.

Thus, the idea for a virtual Blue Christmas service was launched. It will be available for streaming on December 15 at 7 p.m. on or via ZOOM

And she asked Pastor Lee to deliver the homily.

“When Janet called and explained the idea, I thought it was fabulous. I recognize that we push everyone to be happy and joyous during the holiday season, but it’s possible for two things to happen at once,” he said.

“I love the holidays, but I still get a little down. There’s a lot of joy, but internally there’s a war because of a loved one you don’t get to see. I’m glad the Conference is doing this because it can give some people hope.”

“People can watch it at home in privacy,” she said. “We can offer it to churches, who can cast it as their own, whether in-person or virtually.”

The service will run for about 30 minutes and includes readers, piano music, a worship band, and a bell choir. People will also have the option to follow a link to light a virtual candle in honor of a loved one.

Participants include Deacons and laity, individuals who usually don’t get much exposure in their church services. That was done to show that we are a united church of many important parts.

The choice of dates is deliberate. A Blue Christmas service is usually held on December 21, also known as the longest night of the year. But Rev. Earls said she chose December 15 for two reasons.

“This gives other churches time to show the video on the 21st,” she said. “And some people are hurting long before they get to that day.”

Pastor Lee understands the truth of that statement.

“I think in the last few years, we’ve all collectively lost stuff,” he said. “That’s why I want to do this service.

“I really hope that what they’ll hear from the message is that it’s OK and the right thing, to be honest about that pain. I hope that what people hear is that God hears us. He’s not thrown off by the fact we’re depressed.”

Many on the team that came together for the Blue Christmas service have had their share of loss.

One woman lost her husband this year and saw her home badly damaged by Hurricane Ian. Another participant said this was the nudge he needed to return to church.

And Rev. Earl’s husband, Lee Earls, battled cancer this year. He recovered and is cancer free, but as she noted, “We are happy and celebrating, but it doesn’t erase that it’s been a tough year.”

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor at

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