By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY December 20, 2002 For many people in todays commercialized society, all too often behind the joyful glitter of the holiday season lurks the face of despair and loneliness.
Confronted with the painful memories of the loss of a loved one, the ache of a shattered relationship, financial woes or seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD), Christmas can be a difficult time of the year despite the strident cheerfulness of holiday music blaring from store speakers, imploring you to be happy by spending money.
For the past 15 or 20 years, an increasing number of churches across North America have been offering special services to their communities during the holiday season and close to the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
On Sunday afternoon, December 15, the Worship & Music Forum of the Presbyterian churches of Sullivan County sponsored a Blue Christmas/Longest Night service in the Liberty Presbyterian Church sanctuary. The special service was the first of its kind in the area.
The forum presented the service in the belief that Christmas is a time of memories.
Blue Christmas/Longest Night 2002 featured gentle music by the local churchs organist, Nancy Johnston, readings by four elders, silence and time for quiet reflection and prayer.
In addition, people had an opportunity to light candles in memory of loved ones as a sign of hope.
While only a handful of people showed up, the sanctuary was filled with spiritual music and prayer.
Four elders from three neighboring Presbyterian churches officiated at the special service: Jane Orcutt of the Hortonville Presbyterian Church; Frank Burbank of the Livingston Manor Presbyterian Church; and from Roscoe Presbyterian Church, Lois Burrill and Margaret Tremper.
Many years ago, a singer named Elvis Presley recorded a song that began Ill Have a Blue Christmas Without You, recalled Burbank. For many, the Christmas season is a busy but happy time with parades and parties, and gifts and shared meals.
According to the veteran newspaperman, the quiet service allowed naming sadness while at the same time affirming the hope of faith.
But this is not true for everyone, added Burbank. For many people, Christmas can be a hard time of the year, particularly if it is the first Christmas since a loved one has died. For others, Christmas reminds them of a time that is past, when family all gathered together.
In the wake of a call to worship by Burrill, the four elders recited an opening prayer as Burrill lit the sanctuarys candles.
Into a dark world, Jesus has come to offer light and hope, said Orcutt. Jesus, who knew loss and pain; Jesus, who knew how it felt to be an outcast, who had no place to call home, came into the darkness that surrounds each one of us and brings us the light of his love and his presence.
Following a musical interlude and meditation, the elders lit Advent candles signifying grief, courage, memory and love.
Mary and Joseph had reason to be depressed that first Christmas, said Tremper in her Blue Christmas message. And the reasons kept multiplying. . . . They were far from home, and [because] there was no room for them in the inn, their son was born in a cold, drafty stable.
Its okay not to feel joy, she added. And that is what today is about; allowing ourselves to feel the way we do and allowing others to care. . . . The day has ended. Tomorrow comes, and Christmas and a new year. Nothing is ever hopeless.
Following the first annual Blue Christmas/Longest Night special service, everyone was invited to partake of hot homemade soup and fellowship in the churchs community hall.