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Blue Christmas
By Marla Hartman
At some point in our lives we all suffer loss – loss of a job, loss of a significant relationship, loss of a loved one, or loss of a life-long dream. As the holidays approach, scenes of laughing children and families happily gathered around the dinner table abound, amplifying our pain and loneliness. Suffering seems out of place at this joyful time of year, yet many in our congregations and communities deal with this reality every year.
A Blue Christmas Service, sometimes called the Longest Night Service, recognizes each individual's suffering and offers a place of understanding and compassion. While not a service to cheer up those in attendance, it is a reminder that because of Christ's entrance into the darkness of this world, we now have hope. A brief web search will net many programming ideas, but below are the key components the Fresno Sunnyside Church Blue Christmas Service uses each year:
  • Warm, welcoming greeters
  • Familiar carols playing softly in the background 
  • Lower lights than most sanctuary programs, use candle light for warmth if practical 
  • Welcome and acknowledgment of the pain that brought them to this service
  • Prayer inviting God into our places of pain or loneliness 
  • Responsive reading (many available online) 
  • Congregational Christmas hymn ("Joy to the World" – Not a good selection here)
  • A personal testimony of loss, grief and how that person is now coping - especially during the holidays.  (This can be a reading such as The Mustard Seed available on the web. Our first year, we read the story and gave them a printed card that included a copy of the story and color image of a Christmas tree with an actual mustard seed affixed as the star) 
  • Invite each person to respond in a physical way. We have given each a small piece of blue paper to write the name of love one that died, the loss or a special prayer or thanksgiving. Each is then invited to place that in a clear acrylic ornament and come forward and hang it on the tree. Another simpler and less expensive option is to have each light a candle on a table up front for the same reasons. 
  • A special music number sung during the above activity
  • A homily of hope
  • Another responsive reading
  • Closing prayer
Prior to the closing prayer an invitation is extended to anyone desiring personal prayer to come forward following prayer. All are invited to linger in the sanctuary as long as they would like, and then join us for light refreshments. 
This service has been well received by church members for their own needs, as well as a place for them to invite friends and family who have suffered a loss. There are always new faces in the crowd, and a number that stay for prayer afterward. The Blue Service should be advertised to the community and other local churches through radio announcements, and placement on various community calendars as well as the typical bulletin, newsletter and banner announcements.

Marla Hartman is the director of ministries for the Fresno Sunnyside Church in California