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Saturday, December 23, 2006

When Christmas Hurts . . .

Our Blue Christmas Service will be held at 4 PM this afternoon. It will be our first. Later on today, after I return from my morning rounds, I will post the liturgy here. Please feel free to take whatever you need for your own use.

While I fashioned it from a variety of sources, the liturgy is not mine. I am deeply in debt to many on the House of Bishops and Deputies (HOB/D) listserv and around the Anglican Communion (Canada and England) who sent me samples of their services. It gave me the resources as well as the courage to try and pull this off with less than a week's notice.

We have sent out over 100 invitations to members of the congregation known to me or the staff who have had some significant loss: job, sobriety, relationship, death, debt, bankruptcy, etc., in the past five years.

We have flyers which say, "WHEN CHRISTMAS HURTS. . . " in the grocery stores and sandwich shops. Unlike other church events, every shop owner I approached immediately posted it on their window. I left a few flyers with a few of the counselors at the large Counseling Center in the nearby town. The service was also advertised in two of our local papers.

I understand a reporter from each of these papers will be attending the service - for themselves as well as to get a bit of a story. That ought to help with next year's attendance.

Simplicity is my liturgical theme. I have set up a simple table at the crossing, the main focus of which is a very large basket of greens with white Shasta daisies and white carnation with eight white candles. I have moved my chancel chair and prayer desk to the side of that table.

Since this service hopes to include anyone in the community of Chatham and surrounding areas for whom Christmas hurts, I decided not to do Eucharist. It was a tough call, but I think it was the right one - at least for this year.

The focus of the service is on saying specially written prayers and lighting the candles, one by one, followed by a time of significant silence. When the moment feels right, I will break the silence of our prayer and meditation by leading us in singing progressive verse of "O come, O come, Emmanuel" until all eight verses are sung.

The service ends with the Lord's payer and singing "Silent Night."

Taking a cue and some courage from my beloved Sisters of St. Helena in Vale's Gate, NY (where I am privileged to be an associate) who have no organ or musical instrument (save a harpsichord which is rarely used) in the convent Chapel, there will be no musical instrument at this service, just our frail human voices.

The Sisters of St. John Baptist in Mendam, NJ, who are also inspirations for me and very dear to my heart, rarely use instruments in their weekly chapel.

In some of my darkest hours, the sound of the voices of my sisters in prayer, psalmody and hymn carried me toward the light of Christ. Indeed, when I'm feeling overwhelmed by an unexpected wave of grief, it is the memory of their voices which leads me to safer shores.

I really want to create the sense of each voice holding and carrying the other. I want us to hear the emotion in our voices, and not shy away from hearing that as we lift our voices in prayer and song. I believe there is healing in the music and healing in the sharing of our voices. I don't know how to do that if we rely on instruments.

I may be persuaded next year to have a flute, or perhaps a "quiet piano" but for now I'm remembering a poem written by the Rev'd Pauli Murray, first Negro woman (her preferred description of herself) to be ordained a priest in the church, who wrote: "Hope is a song in a weary throat."

I'm going for hope. I'm going for simplicity in the midst of the complexity of human grief and sorrow. I'm going for solace and healing in community, trusting that Jesus will show up when two or more are gathered together in his Name.

Of your kindness and mercy, I would be deeply grateful if you shot an "arrow prayer" over toward Chatham, NJ this afternoon 'round about 4 PM.

I'll do my part to do my best. I'll let you know how it went.


Lisa said...

You'll have my prayers, my dear! And I'll be eager to hear a report. This is a very powerful ministry you're offering, and I'm sorry I can only be there in spirit.

stumpjumper said...

I arrived at the house just at 4 p.m. and had an urge to visit your site (which I do on almost daily)and when I saw this post I just knew it was right. Everything! Wish I could have been there.
This is my darkest Christmas ever, and I've had some real dark ones.
So, I've been shooting arrows and prayers your way ever since.

Grace said...

I've been praying!!

Caroline Divine said...

Godde bless you. One of my dear friends, who just lost her beloved cat of many, many years, just attended a Blue Christmas liturgy at a local UCC church here in the Southland, a few towns away. I am going to see if our church (Episcopal) can organize one next year -- a fine idea. Let us know how things went...