ST. LOUIS (AP) — The crowd was small for a Christmastime
church service, the atmosphere quiet and solemn. There were no joyous
carols, no children dressed as nativity characters, no festive
About two dozen people gathered Monday night for a "Blue Christmas"
service at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis. It's among many
nationwide providing a special service aimed directly at those in need of
spiritual healing — whether due to divorce, tough economic times, the loss
of a loved one or whatever has them feeling down at the holidays.
Charles Brown, 35, is still grieving the loss of his mother, who died in
June of congestive heart failure. After Monday's service, Brown stuck
around to be anointed with oil and for private words of healing from one
of the pastors.
"He told me God is with me, God will bless me," Brown said. "I feel like
this was a chance to lay my burden down. It gave me comfort."
The holiday services are often called "Blue Christmas" or "Longest Night,"
and typically held on or around the winter solstice, right before
Christmas. The first Blue Christmas service was believed to have been
performed in British Columbia in 1987.
Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources for the General Board
of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., said
the movement has picked up steam in recent years — perhaps due in part to
the economic downturn.
"Part of it is a recognition that both the culture and even the church, at
this time of year, can tend to completely overlook suffering,"
Burton-Edwards said. "Everybody is supposed to be cheery and happy and all
of that, and yet that isn't the case for some people."
Christ Church Cathedral has offered Blue Christmas services for the past
four holiday seasons. The church was lit mostly by candles. There was no
sermon, instead it was a mix of scripture with healing words, quiet songs,
prayers and the lighting of eight candles, each on behalf of particular
struggles: Pain and illness, financial problems, broken families,
"I think it's definitely a time people think about family members and
loved ones who have died, or they think of divisions or broken
relationships," the Rev. Amy Chambers Cortright said. "Some people don't
really feel like they have a place anywhere."
Blue Christmas services aren't tied to any particular denomination. In
Jeffersonville, Ind., several churches come together each year. The Rev.
Don Summerfield of First Presbyterian Church said the crowds there tend to
be small, but the healing is clear.
"We had a guy drive 45 miles to the service," Summerfield said. "He just
said he needed something like that."
The Rev. David Muench, an ordained Lutheran pastor and counselor in
suburban St. Louis, said Blue Christmas services play an important role in
showing people they are not alone in their suffering.
"We know that people can manage uncomfortable emotions when they are
around other caring people," Muench said. "If it keeps me from feeling I'm
not alone and there are others in this with me, it can be very valuable."
At Christ Church Cathedral, Cortright offered encouragement from Matthew
11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and
I will give you rest."