Indeed, the holidays are a time to toast family and friends, share good cheer with those we love. But what becomes of a once jovial season when you lose the people you used to share it with?
This question is at the center of why St. Matthews Lutheran Church on Philo Road in Urbana has been providing a unique service that pays respect to those grieving during this time of year to its congregation and the entire community that chooses to attend.
A “Blue Christmas” as its called sometimes — it was designed to be a peaceful and welcoming space to feel comfortable grieving, knowing that those who surround you are doing the same. With more than a few people in my life that are having particularly hard years, I wanted to learn a little more about what it is.
I asked Worship Team Leader Susan Cole a little more about it to help better describe what to expect, and she accommodated.
Smile Politely: How long has the Longest Night Service been running at St. Matthew's?
Susan Cole: This is the fourth year that St Matthew Lutheran Church Urbana has had a Longest Night/Blue Christmas Service. [It started in 2016]
Smile Politely: What inspired church leadership to pursue it, and what was the original idea behind it?
Cole: Pastor Maggie Falenchek, our associate pastor for three years, first suggested having a Longest Night/Blue Christmas Service. This followed a time when there were a number of funerals in the congregation for some young and not so young people and the families were approaching the holiday season, still in grief because the deaths were so recent. There was also awareness on the part of our congregation that the Christmas season can bring up long standing family issues or be a time when families with fewer resources are under a lot of pressure. Often it is hard to admit that we are struggling and we need a little help. Having the service allows the pain that many are feeling to be acknowledged with others who are experiencing the similar things and to feel affirmed and supported. It is normal human response to feel grief, sadness, or anger when experiencing life’s troubles, but this is not the end of the story. We are not traveling alone. Jesus is with us. So in addition to acknowledging the struggles we acknowledge the hope that is available for all of us. The service affirms real human feelings and the possibility of hope.
Smile Politely: How long does the service last?
Cole: About 30 to 45 minutes.
Smile Politely: What can attendees expect from it? Is there opportunity for sharing, or is it purely a chance to reflect and listen and hopefully find a sense of peace for people in pain during the holidays?
Cole: Attendees can expect a time to listen and remember and find a sense of peace in the Scripture readings, poetry, songs, a sharing of bread and wine and time for quiet reflection when the service is finished.
The church, which is affirming and inclusive, will welcome Pastor Connie Bandy of Community United Church of Christ to preside over The Longest Night Service.
St. Matthews Lutheran Church
2200 Philo Rd
W December 18th, 7:30 p.m.