Pastor Hwapyoung Kang of the United Methodist Church in Hollister began the Blue Christmas service with the words “It is OK not to be OK.” The congregation and guests had gathered to share their grief over departed loved ones in a quiet music and candlelight service on the evening of Dec. 21.
The opening call-and-response prayer evoked loss and change: “In this season of short days and long nights, teach us the lessons of endings: children growing, friends leaving, loved ones dying, grieving over, grudges over, blaming over, excuses over.”
The small historic church was decorated with paintings of biblical Christmas scenes. Kang lit advent candles as prayers were offered and scripture passages were read.
“We light candles to remember those persons we have loved and lost,” Kang said. We pause to remember their names, their faces, their voices. We give thanks to the memory that binds them to us this season that anticipates Christmas.”
As the candles were lit, the congregation of about 20 members prayed silently in memory of deceased family and friends.
“I think this service is made for those who don’t feel like they want to participate in a traditional Christmas,” said congregation member Russ Wood, who has taken part in Blue Christmas for three years. “It gives folks an opportunity to come and spend some quiet time with some meditative music. It’s not a joyous festive kind of thing. It is an opportunity to share in the coming of Christ, have it be meaningful to those in grief.”
Wood himself has suffered losses he feels the service helps him cope with and resolve.
“There are a whole lot of people who are heavy on my heart tonight,” he said. “I lost my mom and my dad and my younger brother all in the last 10 years. It is a time now for setting priorities and taking care of those who love you.”
Susan Stalder is the church organist and has been a member of the congregation for almost 10 years. She said she was thinking of people who have passed from her life.
“It’s been horrible,” she said. “I lost my mom two years ago and we have lost six members of the congregation as well in that time. ”
The service ended with Kang calling the congregation up to the front of the church, where they could select a candle in memory of someone and place it on a table. As the congregation prayed, Kang lit the candles.
After a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the singing of “Silent Night,” the service ended and the congregation filed quietly out of the church.
“This is a night of silent reflection during a very hectic time of the year,” Stalder said. “Because the church is so dark during the service and because it is such a solemn event it gives you a nice peaceful feeling, which we all need sometimes.”
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