23 December 2014, The Tablet

Facing a blue Christmas

by Lilian Simpson

We know that Christmas is not a happy time for many people – those who have been bereaved, whose relationships have broken down, who are lonely and without families– in fact so many people who find the time of Christmas cheer the most difficult time of the year. So in the last few years the liturgy group at my church has attempted to bring spiritual comfort to those in need by using the Blue Christmas service.

At the service we sing simple hymns of healing and leave time for silence and reflection to allow people to get in touch with their feelings and acknowledge their hurts, using symbols of letting go, and then take home a symbol of God’s love.

Our church is St James’, part of the parish of St Aloysius and St James in Hebburn, a small town in the north-east of England. Our liturgy group attended presentations of various liturgies by the head of the department for spirituality in Hexham and Newcastle, Kathryn Turner, and then made adaptations to suit our congregation.

So for our first service, in 2012, we set up the sanctuary with muted lighting, a small table draped with blue cloth, and on it a bowl of blue baubles and an empty crib. As people came in they were given a strip of paper to write the name of the person or situation that most troubled them. We explained what we hoped the service might achieve and lit the Advent wreath and had our Scripture readings. Then we invited everyone to come forward with the paper that symbolised their concerns, and put it into the crib and take a bauble to either put on their Christmas tree as a reminder for themselves, or to give it to someone they felt was in greater need. The figure of the baby Jesus was placed on the papers, which would later be burned.

We arranged the service so that it was unhurried and deliberate – about an hour. Towards the end, we prayed for each group of people and said our family prayer together, followed by a sign of peace.

Last year we varied the service by adding small candles, to be lit by each person when they felt it appropriate, symbolising a prayer that the light of Christ would shine in all our hearts and out into our families, friends and neighbourhoods. It could also be appropriate to use glass beads as jewels as gifts from the Lord to take home as a reminder that we are all God’s greatest treasure, or to substitute for the baby Jesus a statue of Mary as the mother who understands not only our joys but also our deepest sorrows.

We have had many appreciative comments. One recently bereaved person said they had found great comfort in attending and having a reminder to take home. Other people say the service has made them aware of the pain Christmastide can cause others, or helped them appreciate what they themselves have.

Even though those who come may be few in number, we don't worry. As long as the service touches one heart or leads someone back to Jesus and his blessed mother, we are content.

Lilian Simpson, St James’ Liturgy Group, Hebburn

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