A blue Christmas?: Nondenominational service Friday at Commons to help people with loss

Twenty three years later, ​Pastor Luke Maggard remembers. How can he possibly forget?​

He was just 8 years old when his father suddenly died slightly more than two weeks before Christmas.

Sometimes, the pain and emptiness still returns this time of year.

“This issue (of holiday loss) is kind of near and dear to my heart,” said Maggard, lead pastor at Columbus Free Methodist Church. “It’s something I sometimes still wrestle with every year, even though it’s been a long time.

“I get what those feelings are like when you’re celebrating the holiday without a loved one.”

Maggard and Pastor Kristi Jones of Memorial Baptist Church are among those on Love Chapel’s worship committee planning what they are calling the First Annual Blue Christmas Service at 6 p.m. Friday at The Commons, 300 Washington St in downtown Columbus.

Organizers say the gathering is for those experiencing a loss of any kind — a loved one, a job, health, career, ability, independence, financial stability, what once was, hope and any other kind of struggle or grief, according to organizers.​

The service, which some individual area churches have presented in years past, is meant to strike a careful balance, according to Maggard.

“We want to recognize that we do, for example, miss loved ones,” he said. “But we also want to create space for examining how we can celebrate Jesus and his coming in this season amid that very sense of loss and those feelings of grief and sadness.

“We want to look at how we do both. I know that we generally think that we have to do one or the other. But we can realize that Jesus sits in the midst of us and our sadness and grief. And he wants us to be able to celebrate him in the midst of all that.”

Blue Christmas services often also have been called Longest Night services because they sometimes they have been held on Dec. 21, the winter solstice marking the shortest daytime period and the longest period of darkness in the Northern hemisphere.

Last year, Jones at Memorial Baptist noticed her church and at least three others within a few short miles hosted a Blue Christmas service. Jones, noting that Biblical faith is ideally meant to be lived in community, “felt like we should be working together and not separately on something as important as this.”

About 40 people attended the Memorial Baptist service that she led, which she considers “a great response” for a small church.

Jones said people sometimes can forget that those who have suffered severe losses as long as 10 or 20 years ago can feel the pain anew annually during the holidays.

“They are reminded, for instance, that that person isn’t there at the table anymore,” Jones said.

Like Maggard, she knows that feeling firsthand. Her mother died of cancer seven years ago.

“Many times, I think that anyone who has experienced a loss on that scale can then find a way to relate to almost any kind of loss,” Jones said.

The approximate one-hour service on Friday will include Scripture, music coordinated by Daniel Kane of First Baptist Church, poems and prayers. There will be no sermon message. The good news for the future of such a service is that a number of additional pastors have told her and Maggard that they definitely want to be a part of next year’s gathering.

And she is glad that organizers are keeping the definition of loss a broad one.

“It’s really up to everyone’s interpretation what a person’s loss actually looks like,” Jones said.

She mentioned, for example, that she has seen older adults struggle mightily with the loss of the ability to drive, which then dramatically alters their life.

Organizers are hoping that attendees will make time after the service for a bit of fellowship and refreshments. Plus, clergy will be available for individual prayer.

“The whole point of the service,” Jones said, “is for hurting people to be able to experience Jesus, and experience that anticipation of hope (of a savior).

“In order to do that, though, we’re all going to have to lay down, even if only momentarily, that loss that we’re feeling.”

About the service

What: Love Chapel’s First Annual Blue Christmas Service to help people dealing with all manner and variety of loss.

When: 6 p.m. Friday.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in downtown Columbus.

Information: Facebook page for Love Chapel – Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches