While many are enjoying the holiday season by buying presents, stringing lights or hanging the stockings with care, we don’t stop to think that, for some, Christmas is a difficult and lonely time.
On Thursday, Dec. 23, Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church will hold their fourth annual Blue Christmas service, designed for the lost, lonely and grieving.
The service is not interactive and is open to the community at large. The service also has no end time – attendees may stay as long as they like.
“Not everyone is happy at Christmas,” explained the Rev. Kay Lanasa. “There are many who are lonely and grieving. Here’s a service that they can come to that’s for them. You just come and spend this time, kind of in the peace of the evening,”
Lanasa noted, “The service is designed to comfort those who have experienced a loss, those who feel isolated, and those who are a past or a present caregiver.”
Each year, the service has had a focused theme. This year, the church has chosen “caregivers.”
“We pray, and God shows us what it’s supposed to be. It sounds simple, and it is,” she said. “When you get a group of people together and you start praying and you say, ‘Who is hurting this year?’ Last year, we remembered military families, and we had three people in uniform light the advent candles, and it was just beautiful,” said Lanasa.
A special piece of music will be performed during the evening, written by Paul and Christel Grandell, who are part of Mariner’s Praise Band. There will also be a personal reading from the balcony, given by a member of the congregation, on what it means to be a caregiver and how God helped him through his experience.
“A lot of neat things go on during the service,” Lanasa said, adding that another member of the church – a recent widower – will be dressed as the Good Shepherd that evening.
“The shepherd just lost his wife about six months ago, and he was willing to do anything for this service. He didn’t want to speak, so he’s going to be the Good Shepherd,” she said.
Last year, approximately 70 people attended the service, which in its first year only had about 30 attendees.
“God brings who needs to be there that evening. They leave in silence. We won’t have cookies. Believe it or not, Methodists aren’t going to serve food,” joked Lanasa.
There will also be members from Mariner’s 60-person prayer team, who will be there to sit with attendees if they wish.
The Mariner’s prayer team has been meeting every Tuesday night, from 5 to 7 p.m. for the past two and a half years, to help anyone and everyone who may want to go in and pray.
Diane Donohue, another member of the church, will be speaking to those attending about her personal experiences as a caregiver.
“During the Christmas season, I feel that for some folks who have experienced loss, or perhaps they’re going through a serious illness, or they’re caregiving – it can be a stressful time for those folks… I know what that feels like to go through that time, and it can be a very different time that one has experienced prior to going through those challenges.”
Donohue, who moved to the area six months ago, was involved in Blue Christmas at her previous church and noted how helpful the service was.
“Being involved in the Blue Christmas at my prior church was very helpful. It took me through a time that otherwise, you know, it was a sad time; it didn’t make it joyful, but it was a service of hope, and that really was what we’re trying to do… give that light of hope.”
Having experienced a loss three years ago during the Christmas season, Donohue knows first-hand how difficult the holidays can be and said she hopes she can comfort others through her own story.
“During that time,” Donohue said, “I found it very hard to participate in any Christmas activities, including Christmas church services. I needed time to acknowledge my sadness, but I also needed to know that I was not alone. When I was asked to speak at the upcoming Blue Christmas service, I felt compelled to tell my story, with the hope of offering encouragement and comfort to others who may be going through a loss, as well as those who are or have been a caregiver.”
Although the service is a somber one, both Lanasa and Donohue noted that there is an overriding theme of hope for all who attend.
“I think that people need to know that there is a service that really is designed to comfort and that, hopefully, they’ll feel comfortable attending and feel the love and the hope that we want to covey, all the while acknowledging that this time during the holidays people are hurting. We go out to the malls and hear the Christmas music and sometimes we can’t bear that.
“It’s important for people to know that there is hope,” said Donohue. “We all go through grief differently. Everybody’s grief is unique. Those who have the stress of caregiving or perhaps have the memory of caregiving – especially through the holidays — we want to harbor hope. I’m really proud to be a part of it. I think that many people agree with that.”
“It’s going to be very emotional, and that’s OK, because anybody that comes will be superly blessed,” added Lanasa.
Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church is located at 81 Central Avenue in Ocean View. For more information, contact the Rev. Kay Lanasa at (302) 539-2203.