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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wednesday Festival: Longest Night Services

This is a participatory Wednesday Festival! I searched the RevGals archives and did not find a post on this topic, though it was mentioned in comments by several. I'd like to ask you to share in the comments about your experience with this type of service and let us know whether you have something like it, with a brief description.

At this time of year, many churches offer a service of solace for those feeling out of kilter with the merriment suffusing our culture. I've heard it called "Blue Christmas," "Longest Night" (often because it's held on December 21, the longest night of the year), and "Hard to Be Merry" (in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is the opposite of the longest night).

I've never been to a service like this, but as I said to a friend today, I wish I could. I don't have any great personal tragedies making my Christmas difficult, but still, I feel depressed by the horrors of the world and by the pain I hold for others - those I know and those I don't. And those feelings are magnified by the fact that I am "supposed to" feel happy, joyful, ho ho ho! How much more must this be true for those of you whose calling is ordained ministry, and who walk with people in devastation in these days, and who are dealing with tragedies of your own as well.

In a December 10 article from Episcopal News Service, Carolyn Voldritch of the Church of Our Saviour in Charlottesville, VA, says of the service, "I find it personally helpful because you don't get to be middle-aged and not have some sort of heaviness in your heart, where you're missing someone or because things in your life didn't turn out the way you wanted them to," she said.

Yes. Thank you.

For your interest, here's a link to a wonderful liturgy for Blue Christmas on the blog of Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton, Proctor Fellow at EDS.

So, please share with us your thoughts and ideas for Longest Night services. If you want to include a link, you can do it with this little formula: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>


On a different but very related note - I ask your prayers for Questing Parson, whom many of you may know from his blog or on Facebook. He has been a steadfast member, friend and supporter of the RevGalBlogPals from the beginning. He has been walking in the Valley of the Shadow with his dear wife, who entered into larger life at midnight last night.

Lord, hear our prayers.


  1. We are doing our first one next Monday night at my home church, using our somewhat revised version of the liturgy "Christmas in a Minor Key" which I found on textweek. It alternates the Isaiah readings with the O antiphons, and we've added some of Psalm 88. We're using one of the author's suggestions, Hymn of Promise, which is in the Methodist hymnal and is a favorite in our church, and "A Stable Lamp is Lighted," which is in the Episcopal hymnal and has become one of our signature Christmas songs.

    Most of our readers have particular experiences that caused us to invite them to participate. (Some turned us down; not ready yet. No way could I have done this last year or the year before.) We are inviting folks to stay after for coffee, cider, and conversation of they wish.

    The response so far, from people in various churches and workplaces, has been kind of overwhelming. Of course, the weather will tell!

    I am struck by the comment in the article that by middle age most people have had something happen. My father was 28 and my brother and I, 4 and 7, when our first something happened. I wonder whether, had there been services like this all those years ago, my father might have found a reason to stay with church.

    There are at least five such services in our environs between this week and next. Perhaps I will manage to link to our website here.

  2. Oh, Robin. I'm so glad to know that your church is doing this with your participation. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Our daughter and son-in-law's church is having a service like this on the 20th and she is inviting her cousin, recently widowed, to it.

  4. @Robin: I'm with Mary Beth, so very glad to know you're part of one of these services this year.

    Last year, at the church which neither of us can attend anymore (her due to having her own pulpit, me due to a move out of state), Mid-Life Rookie put together a Blue Christmas service. For the opening anthem, she had me sing "Come Darkness, Come Light" by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Lyrics include, "Come broken, come whole, come wounded in your soul. Come any way that you know." It was a fitting invitation to enter into that type of worship.

  5. DB, I guess MCC and I have something in common beyond our college alumni association. When I announced the service in church a couple of weeks ago, I invited people to "Come as you are, or as you aren't. Bring what you have, or what you don't."

    Thank you for that song; I am going to stash that reference away for another year.

  6. I attended the Blue Christmas Service at my church in downtown Houston four years ago, which was my first Christmas without my mother. She had been such a part of my joy in Christmas that I was not feeling the spirit of the season as I had before. The service was held in the chapel and wasn't lengthy or elaborate. Each of us went to the altar rail for communion and to share quietly with the minister what our personal sadness or problem was so she could pray with and for us for healing and support and love. This service was very helpful to me.

  7. Our was a "Longest Night Service of Healing and Wholeness" and it was the first midweek Advent service, so it started the season. I went on an impulse while my partner took our kids to McDonalds.

    It was a simple service. The music was all piano and flute. As people entered, we were invited to come forward and light votive candles. There were scripture readings (including the "comfort my people" passage from Isaiah which maybe the only words I actually heard) and a simple responsive liturgy. There was no sermon or meditation. We prayed together for the world around us and then had the opportunity to name specific requests during a time of silent prayer. The congregation then sang Taize songs/chants/choruses (?) while people went forward to be anointed and prayed for (with the invitation of prayers for yourself or others).

    The service ended with a simple benediction and invitation to take one of the candles with us.

    I was a complete wreck the whole entire time, which was a little disconcerting even in such a service, but I was glad I went.

  8. I am giving the meditation at our service Sunday afternoon. As it happens Sunday is almost 7 years to the day since I preached at my Grandmother's memorial.

    My text is Isaiah 40: Comfort, Comfort Ye my people.

    I will talk about how the Christ comes in the midst of our lives, our whole lives. I will talk about how we are not alone in our struggles. I will likely share the memory of my worst Christmas, alone for the first time and in far worse shape than I realized at the time. I may talk about preparing for Christmas when working with families in crisis.

    But I will end with joy. But a different type of joy. I believe Christmas Joy, the Joy of faith, is not about happiness. This Joy is about finding the centre, finding the sense of well-being that comes from knowing that over and over God is saying "Comfort. comfort all my people".

    May light shine in the darkness--and the darkness has not, can not, and will not overcome it.

  9. First for this church as well as this community on Dec 21st. Designed as a simple service...scripture, poetry, silence, lighting of candles, and Taize like music. Using "O God, We Call" several times during the service and ending with a responsive prayer by Ted Loder.

    I have no idea how many to "plan" for...time will tell.

  10. I have done a Service of the Longest Night for several years now and can't imagine Advent without it. The sanctuary at night with candles and quiet music is always lovely!

    I am grateful for the links here - they are helping me to "freshen" my service. I got my service ideas originally from the GBOD (United Methodist) and TextWeek.

  11. I have led a ' Hard to Be Merry' service the last 3 years, since I cam to this placement. but with other new activities this year, we aren't doing one, and I have had someone ask when it is on.

    I usually talk about the first Christmas and how it wasn't all joy and festivities, but a young couple, pregnant too early, etc.

    They have all been well received, but the past 2 years attendance has been mainly people from the congregation there to lead and offer care.
    so next year I think we will do it again, it feels quite strange for me not to be leading one.

  12. Thanks to all of you for your thoughts. I love to think of every one of you offering and participating in these wonderful services, and will keep you and your people in my prayers.

    What a gift of honesty and hope in a world of maniacal cheer.

  13. We did our first one last year; I developed the liturgy with help from some of the RGBPs who shared theirs with me!

    We would have been thrilled with 20 people and were stunned when 65 showed up. Obviously, it met a need. Our expectation was people with recent losses and hurts, for whom a regular Christmas service would be too painful. What we found, however, was that many people came to both; it simply was helpful to them to have a place to hold up to God's light and healing past losses, to acknowledge those they still miss.

    Our music was provided by quiet organ and a cello, along with some a capella singing (fortunate that the rector has a fabulous voice). It suited the worship well.

    We gave folks the opportunity, if they wished, to light a candle and/or receive anointing for healing. We anticipated most would want to light a candle; we didn't foresee that virtually every person there would also choose anointing. What a holy privilege to share that gift with them!

    We put little packs of kleenex out in the pews so it would be clear that crying was fine, and we certainly saw them put to use. There was a spirit of that being okay, and I saw parishioners I know would hold back on a Sunday weeping quietly but without apparent embarrassment.

    As people left, each one was offered a small candle with a tag attached that said, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." We invited people to take one for a friend as well if they wished. We had warm rolls and cider in the library afterward, and someone spontaneously brought a batch of chili; this year, it will be bread and cider and tomato soup. That gathering afterward seemed important, sort of a soft landing after a powerful service.

    One more thing: just in putting out the flyers for this in various places and in inviting people to come, I have had some amazing conversations. What a door opener to pastoral care...

  14. Betsy, our music director mentioned that the gathering afterward might be the most important part. We are trying to make our service very participatory, with choruses and candle lighting and prayers - names and situations spoken aloud (for many of us, the names of our beloved dead are seldom heard aloud unless we bring them up) -- but still, the chance to converse seems very important.

    BTW, three people have emphatically told me: chairs in rows, not circles! (We are using our chapel, where the seating is flexible.) They have told me that they feel too vulnerable to face other people through an entire service. One woman told me that she got physically ill in the parking lot last year after a similar service in which the seating was in the round.

    And you are SO right about the conversations that are coming up even as we plan. People I have never laid eyes on have confided family suicide stories to me, and tonight at the gym a friend asked, "Can we come even if we aren't hurting this year? In solidarity?"

    I am so appreciative of all these experiences and ideas. Thank you so much, Mary Beth, for starting this discussion. And Betsy, thank you for the Kleenex idea!

  15. There is a beautiful Blue Christmas service in the latest Maren Tirabassi book...can't remember the name now...Something about the people saying Amen, or'll have to google it.

  16. We are doing our first Longest Night service next Tuesday. I have just posted the order of service on my blog.

    Most of the stuff I had access to prepare was primarily focused on grief. We wanted to embrace that, but also broaden the range of issues, so I ended up writing the whole thing myself. (Mostly because I'd rather do that than research other resources.) I am happy to share any of this, with my name attached, so leave a comment with your email if you want my real name!

    I think this is the first such service in our area, and it's generated a lot of interest already. I was on the radio yesterday and will be again tomorrow and the local paper's Faith section will be covering it on Saturday. It's kind of making me think we may have a ton of people show up.

    We decided against cookies, etc., at the end, because of the one-on-one prayer time that we're ending with and because we figured most people might prefer more privacy than that. Some of the comments here are making me wonder if we should re-think that.

  17. And thanks for the reminder about tissues! I'd thought it and forgotten it already.

  18. Lucky Fresh, I think it made a difference that what we offered was sustenance type food, not celebration treats. No sweets beyond the warm cider, all more along the lines of comfort food.

    I was not aware of any others in our diocese last year, though there may have been a few; this year I have seen about a dozen publicized. Definitely a service that's becoming better known.

    I agree that it has been wonderful to hear what others do and to have some discussion about what works; great topic!


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