Blue Christmas services gaining ground
BY PETER SMITH The Courier-Journal
Saturday, December 22, 2012
12/22/12 at 5:01 AM
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Congregants heard no triumphant organ fanfares, no joyous Christmas carols, only quiet readings and prayers in a sanctuary lit with votives amid the dusk of late afternoon.
The music was a soft guitar strumming, accompanying a humming solo of the hymn, "In the Bleak Midwinter."
The event was a Longest Night service at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church - one of a growing number of congregations across the country trying to reach people who feel little comfort and joy amid the celebratory season.
"It's a chance to say, 'My life is not totally fabulous,' and to hear that God is there," said the Rev. Martha Holland.
Some congregations call it a Blue Christmas service, reflecting the sadness of the popular song. Others call it the Longest Night because it occurs on or near the winter solstice.
Some people may be grieving for a loved one with whom they shared Christmases past, Holland said. For others, who may have experienced divorce, abuse or other family trauma, the last thing they want to hear about is coming home for the holidays.
This year's services are particularly sober amid the fresh grief of the mass murder of children and educators in Newtown, Conn.
Blue Christmas services have become more common in the past two decades, with denominations and other groups even adapting traditional December liturgies for the purpose.
At St. Andrew, participants lit four candles on the Advent wreath in honor of grief, pain, fear and struggle, a contrast to their usual representation of love, joy, peace and hope.
Such services help revive the historic meanings of the season of Advent, said the Rev. Chip Hardwick, director of theology, worship and education at the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
A cultural message that "everything is shiny and happy for Christmas" has overwhelmed the season's original meaning, he said.
The Rev. Ben Maas, pastor of St. Andrew, said the goal of the service was not to provide neat answers for why suffering occurs but to assure parishioners of what is ultimately the message of Christmas:
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, no matter how much it seems like the darkness is winning," he said.