For the past five years, Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church in Ocean View has been offering a different kind of service during the holiday season — because, while the Christmas season is one of joy and hope for many, for some it may be a sad time of year.
“It’s a service of comfort,” explained the Rev. Kay Lanasa, who organizes the service. “There are a lot of people who aren’t happy at Christmas. The night before Christmas Eve, this service is for those that just don’t feel real good at Christmas. A Blue Christmas service is for all who are lonely, grieving, or have an emptiness in their heart. It’s a night to join others for an evening of quiet reflection, soft music, and be in a place of healing and remembrance.”
Lanasa brought the service to Mariner’s from Virginia, where she had pastored and first saw a need for such a service.
“When you’re a pastor, you’re seeing all kinds of pain, and it seems to multiply around the holidays. I just felt like there ought to be a place for people whose Christmas is not a joyous time for them. It’s really for the lonely, the lost and the grieving. I saw that as a pastor ministering for people,” said Lanasa. “Yes, there’re all kinds of beautiful joy, cantatas, kids programs… And they’re all great. But mixed in with that congregation are people who are hurting.”
This year’s, the Community Blue Christmas Service will be held on Sunday, Dec. 23, the eve of Christmas Eve. Beginning at 6 p.m. in Mariner’s sanctuary, people throughout the community are welcome to attend the service.
“There is no congregational involvement at all. They just come, sit in the dim light, and they’ll be some music and some candles,” she explained. “When they come into the church, we encourage them to sit by themselves. I think when they do that, they find their own place. We encourage tears, because tears are healing.”
This year, Lanasa said, the service is focusing on “emptiness in your heart,” and in years past, they have focused on military families and loss. “A couple of years ago, we had a grandmother who had lost a grandchild. One year, we honored the military families who were home alone on Christmas.
“This year, we’re really trying to focus more on emptiness in your heart. We see what the particular needs are for this particular year,” explained Lanasa. “There was a young person who was killed in an automobile accident, and it affected the youth in our church. Somebody referred to it as ‘a hole in your heart.’ I wait every year for the spirit to move me, and it’s going to come.”
During the service, a song called “A Pool of Tears,” written by Mariner’s Praise Band leader Paul Grandell will be performed.
“It’s a scripture from 2nd Corinthians about how God comforts us in our need and in return we can comfort others,” said Lanasa.
Throughout the service, members of Mariner’s Prayer Team will be available to offer comfort to those in attendance, if needed.
“We do have prayer people available. We have a big Prayer Team at Mariner’s. They’re kind of watching — if they see somebody at the end of the service, they might go over and sit with them and ask if they can pray for them. That doesn’t always happen.”
Every year, Lanasa has a layperson speak during the 40-minute service. This year, 16-year-old George Trudeau — a Sussex Technical High School junior — will speak.
“I didn’t have much of a dad growing up and still don’t. Jesus Christ came into my life not only as our Lord but as a father figure that I needed,” said Trudeau. “I will be talking about my life before Christ, about how I wandered around because my heart was just restless — not only for God but for a father figure.”
Trudeau said that, after reading a passage in the Bible, he was able to find comfort in his situation, and a father in God.
“One night, I was reading my Bible and in Matthew 6:9 it says, ‘Don’t pray as the hypocrites do, with vain repetitions, but pray our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,’” he recalled. “I was praying. I said, ‘Lord, I don’t really have a father.’ And to this day, I believe the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘I can be your father.’”
Trudeau, who has been a member of Mariner’s for about a year, was approached by Lanasa to speak at Blue Christmas following a testimony he gave for the church’s youth. Feeling his words could help those in need, Trudeau agreed to speak at the service.
“You feel set apart completely because of the sadness in your life. What we try to do for the community is provide a place for it to be OK for them to be sad,” he said. “It’s a very solemn service. It’s meant for people who are very brokenhearted. There are a lot of people around here who are not having a good time at all because maybe a family member died this year, or somebody just heard they had cancer or maybe a tragedy happened around Christmastime and every Christmas they can’t help but think about it. It’s targeted toward people like that.”
Lanasa said the service will offer those who attend the chance to reflect Jesus Christ in the light of hope.
“They’ll get a little candle when they come in, and then at a certain point the Light of Hope will come on and they’ll light their candle. At the end of the service, there are usually chimes that play. I will say, ‘You can stay as long as you want. When you are ready to leave, you can leave.’ And the church will remain in silence and gradually people will get up and leave.”
Trudeau said that he knows the holidays can be a difficult time for some and he hopes that the service will be able to bring some comfort.
“I think good will come out of it. I don’t know what change it will bring. Maybe there are people there who will have a similar situation to mine,” he said. “We may never see the fruits of that for years from now, for all I know. Joy and comfort is a long process for some people, but I think good will come out of it.”
Lanasa said that, although the sanctuary may not be filled, those who are in need of comfort during Christmastime will be led to Mariner’s.
“One year, we had a man come at the beginning, and he wasn’t from our church, and he left. He told us later that he got down to Central Avenue and something told him to go back. He came back, and it was incredible,” said Lanasa. “People who need to be there, God will send them. Those who need to be there will come.”
For more information, call Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church at (302) 539-9510. Mariner’s is located at 81 Central Avenue in Ocean View.