In 2008, the congregation I was then serving, Egypt Lutheran, began the journey of Advent carrying much pain, grief and unanswered questions over the loss of two matriarchs to cancer as well as the murder of a father and adult-son of Egypt and the attempted murder of the same family’s mother. In this quaint, southern town, where the movie Steel Magnolias isn’t far off about how deeply runs the love for Christmas and tinsel, Advent’s newness was no match for the shock and awe we felt. We were black and blue all over before Advent’s first candle was lit. I realized a Blue Chrimas service could bring out the best Advent invites and encourage us at Egypt to name and release our pain and grief. There was one small hitch to this plan. I had never experienced such a service myself.
I worked gathering resources, starting by calling a Methodist colleague Susan Foerster and others to arrange the service.The way I saw it, the service of worship’s intent was threefold: to invite all who wanted to join in remembering a loved one who now rests with God, to pray and grieve together about difficult losses experienced, and to hear God’s Word of hope and consolation. While we invited our entire county, I invited each family of Egypt who’d experienced a significant loss with a pastoral letter.
Two significant planning details are music and candles. I recommend familiar hymns, easy to sing, and those that are soulful, quieter. I wanted the music to invite folks to grieve with God their loss and to experience, if possible, a release of their grief to enjoy Christmas Eve more fully. I intentionally decided to begin with an Advent hymn and conclude with a Christmas carol. For the candles during the Litany of Remembering, we used the Advent Wreath; these candles were lit by two volunteers (selected by a family attending) who also read the Litany. Later in the service, during the Prayers we invited any who wished to light one, small votive candle encased in glass cup (tea lights, inexpensively found at Homegoods.) All fifty-some people came forward, lit a “transitional” candle from the Christ candle (similar to Christmas Eve’s practice), and then lit their votive in memory of a loved one. At the end of the service, everyone was invited to take their candle home, and within minutes of service’s conclusion, all these very hot candles were gone!
One final planning note worth mentioning is arranging to have a hospitality time after this worship service. If you can arrange a simple offering of coffee, tea and cookies, those who participate in this service may appreciate staying a little while longer. We at Egypt were blessed with an “outdoor” narthex and since it was about 80 degrees outside, folks remained for awhile in the yard.
This service was beyond powerful for Egypt, myself and the guests who attended– one of the most powerful services at which I have ever presided. I marvel at this, because in our small, southern town, this service was brand-new to every single person – to me, to our organist, to all who gathered! As we opened the service I shared, a pretty full monologue of welcoming words to set the tone, including: “My hope for tonight is that you will invite God to take these burdens from you, and prepare room in your heart to receive the greatest gift of Christmas, soon to arrive – the infant babe Jesus.”
Peace and blessings to you. If you are blue this Advent and Christmas time, for whatever reason, I pray God will speak to you and minister to you through this service and homily.