While many look at the holiday season as a time of cheer to be shared with family and friends, there are some who do not have as joyous a time.
For those — the lost, lonely, grieving and overwhelmed — Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church holds its Blue Christmas, a service of hope for those in need in the community.
“For most people, everything is all happy and colorful and joy, but there are a lot of hurting people,” said retired pastor Kay Lanasa. “This service is designed for those who want a place to come.”
This year’s service will be held on Friday, Dec. 23, at 7 p.m. in Mariner’s sanctuary. Those who attend are being encouraged to bring a photo of someone missing in their life that they wish to remember.
“We ask people to bring a picture of their loved one. We have a place down front where they can place their picture. A prayer person will escort them, and there’s a blue candle there that they will ‘light,’” she explained. “If somebody doesn’t bring a picture, there will be a card where they write down the person’s name.”
Attendees will also be given a small knit square — a prayer cloth — to pray with and take home with them.
“While they’re hearing something read, they can feel their prayer cloth. The prayer shawl ministry makes these. Every stitch is prayed over in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — every stitch — not only in these but in the big prayer shawls as well.”
Those who attend the service may come and go as they choose. They do not have to speak or participate. Lanasa said Mariner’s Prayer Team will be on hand to pray with anyone who requests additional prayer.
“They do not have to do anything. All they’re expected to do is sit. Some sit in the corner; some bring someone else,” she said. “It’s around music and some scripture.”
During the service, attendees will be hear the music of Paul and Christel Grandell, who oversee the church’s Praise Band.
“My husband, Paul, and I have had the privilege of writing some songs over the years, many of them driven by Pastor Kay for the Blue Christmas service,” said Christel Grandell, praise band/worship media director at Mariner’s. “Paul had the privilege of writing music with Don Thompson, a national singer/songwriter. And one of the songs that came out of that collaboration was ‘Pool of Tears.’”
“The point of the song is everyone sits beside someone’s pool of tears,” added Lanasa.
Also during the service, Mariner’s Pastoral Intern Joe Ciccante will speak about “a spirit filled with hope.”
Lanasa brought the idea of a Blue Christmas service with her when she moved to the area from Virginia 12 years ago.
“Each year, it’s different. It’s never the same. Everybody knows somebody who is hurting, somebody who needs healing, somebody who is dealing with death, addiction. People have lost jobs… People come because they’re not happy.”
This year’s theme focuses on weaving hope out of that which seems to be hopeless. This year, an original piece of artwork was created by Miranda “Andie” Harlan, a parishioner who is also part of the group that organizes the service.
“I knew I wanted to draw something, and Pastor Kay agreed… The idea of threads of the lost, lonely, overwhelmed and grieving being made into a fabric of hope — that idea is really cool. And above the weaver’s loom, Christ being above it all, that’s where we have our hope.”
Harlan said the purpose of the Blue Christmas service spoke to her, and she knew she wanted to be involved.
“My mother passed away about five years ago. I had a difficult relationship with my mother. The Blue Christmas, it’s a nice way for people around the holidays to participate in something.... The holidays can be tough for some people. [The service] is a good way to remember them and what you love.”
People go through difficult ordeals in their lives, said Harlan, be it alcoholism, illness or separation from family, and something like Blue Christmas can offer comfort.
“I like the idea of a Blue Christmas, because we can bring it to the Lord and spend time, allowing God to heal our hearts at this time,” she said. “I just know, through my life, the holidays haven’t been happy for some people. I think it’s nice for it to be open to people in the community of any denomination to come and reflect on the people that they miss.”
Harlan officially joined Mariner’s three months ago, after attending services for about two years.
“I hadn’t been going to church for a few years, and I was praying about a really good church to belong to. I went to the 9:30 service. I felt that it was the right place to be. I felt there was a lot of grace there. And, what I’ve learned is it’s an ecumenical place, which means they include other churches — it’s a very inclusive place.”
Church offers healing, prayer ministries, more
During the holiday season, aside from the Blue Christmas service, Mariner’s also offers Christmas concerts and its Living Nativity and provides Christmas presents to families in need. Throughout the year, the church is active in the community, with the Feed My Sheep Ministry, Trunk-or-Treat, Prayer Ministry, Vacation Bible School and more.
“They have a lot of ministries, and there’s a place for everyone. God can use each person — I like that about Mariner’s — young and old. All kinds of walks of life, there’s a place for you to serve,” said Harlan.
“It’s all open to the community. The reason is God doesn’t want us to keep him and his story inside. He wants us to take it out,” said Grandell.
Grandell said that, although the church has been going beyond its walls for years (even doing twice-yearly mission trips to Costa Rica), it was the Rev. David Humphrey who made it into a mission.
“The concept started before that, but he really enforced that. He challenged us last year that no need would go unaddressed within a 12-mile radius of the church. That’s kind of our church mission, but we go beyond that radius.”
Lanasa said the Blue Christmas service draws between 60 and 70 community members every year. Those who are unable to attend or need additional prayer are always welcome to the church’s Prayer Room, which is open every Tuesday night from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The church also recently started holding a monthly healing service on the second Saturday of every month at 5 p.m. in the sanctuary. The services are led by the healing prayer ministers, but the church’s pastors are there as well.
“We have scripture, song, worship, communion, and then prayer ministers are available after the service to pray with people for as long as they want to stay,” said Barbara Brown, who heads the ministry.
The ministry is through the Francis MacNutt series from the School of Christian Healing.
“We’re in our third year of learning how to heal people through prayer,” said Brown. “Physical healing, spiritual healing, generational healing, social healing… It’s not a quick fix. It’s something that could take quite a while.”
Those who are unable to attend the monthly Saturday service can instead make an appointment with the ministry.
The Healing Ministry came from the Prayer Ministry, said Brown, noting it began about 10 years ago. Every week, about 60 people pray over the church’s prayer list.
“Then we decided we wanted to go a little deeper with healing prayer,” said Brown. “The really intense prayer is the Healing Prayer Ministry, where we take as much time as needed. They may not be healed of something they want — for instance, a physical healing — but whenever you pray with someone, God always shows up, and he’ll do what he wants to do.”
The beautiful thing about healing prayer, Brown said, is that they do see people healed.
“That’s the wonderful part about healing prayer… We’ve seen some healings. We prayed for a woman who had a hip problem, and she was healed of that. We’ve prayed for people who have had cancer, after the treatments, and they’ve been cancer-free. We’ve prayed for a woman whose back problems have been healed. Sometimes people are not healed the way they want to be healed. We rely on God as the Holy Spirit to do the healing.”
Brown emphasized that the healing ministers are not healers themselves, that God is the healer.
“We are not the ones doing the healing. We, as ministers, are only the hands and feet of God. We are just his vessels. This is strictly spiritual — God’s Holy Spirit.”
Brown encourages those in the community, even if healing is not needed, to attend a service.
“Experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s very calming and peaceful.”
As for the Blue Christmas service on Friday, the church hopes to help those who need a little extra support, and will maybe find a new family in God and Mariner’s.
“My hope for the Blue Christmas is that people who are struggling this particular season, because of loss or hopelessness, for them to realize that God is the ultimate healer, he is our hope. He will restore hope and joy. No matter what your situation is, there is hope in God. Our hope is in Jesus, who is the ultimate healer.”
“Even if nobody comes, the important thing for me is that community will see that Mariner’s is doing something. My hope is those who need a silent service will come. Those who need a place of peace during the busy holiday, they will find us.”
For more information, about Blue Christmas, contact Lanasa at (302) 539-2204 or PastorKay@aol.com. For more information on the services and programs Mariner’s offers, call (302) 539-9510 or visit marinersbethel.org. Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church is located at 81 Central Avenue in Ocean View.