Antrim church offers holiday hope in Blue Christmas Candlelight service

  • The First Presbyterian Church of Antrim holds a Blue Christmas Candlelight Service on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. Staff photo by MEGHAN PIERCE—

  • The First Presbyterian Church of Antrim holds a Blue Christmas Candlelight Service on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. Staff photo by MEGHAN PIERCE—

  • The First Presbyterian Church of Antrim holds a Blue Christmas Candlelight Service on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. Staff photo by MEGHAN PIERCE—

  • The First Presbyterian Church of Antrim holds a Blue Christmas Candlelight Service on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. Staff photo by MEGHAN PIERCE—

  • The First Presbyterian Church of Antrim holds a Blue Christmas Candlelight Service on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. Staff photo by MEGHAN PIERCE—

  • The First Presbyterian Church of Antrim holds a Blue Christmas Candlelight Service on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. Staff photo by MEGHAN PIERCE—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/23/2019 9:54:49 PM

For some, the holidays can be the worst time of the year. With that in mind, the First Presbyterian Church in Antrim held its first Blue Christmas Candlelight Service Sunday night.

“I think validating people’s feelings is one way of helping them move through the process,” the church’s pastor Rev. Jan Howe said. “You may not have a significant loss this year. You might be joyous. But there is some sadness because things aren’t the way they used to be.”

The death of a loved one, whether recent or not, can hit people hard at Christmastime and then the social obligation of being holly and jolly instead of sad can make it worse. Whether someone has suffered a personal tragedy or suffers from ongoing depression the holidays can be rough. There are people experiencing the disappointment of facing another year with a long term illness, those struggling with financial pressures and people who just don’t thrive in the coldest darkest part of the year.

“Some people are just sad and they don’t need to necessarily have to have a reason or something that they are grieving. They just feel out of step or out of sync with all the holly jolly wonderfulness that you can’t escape from,” church organist Sharon Dowling said after the Blue Christmas service Sunday night. “I think this season’s commercial focus and everything else gets everyone out of balance.”

Jan Howe said she wanted to offer the community a Blue Christmas service because most people struggle this time of year and need a contemplative service. But also in part because the Antrim community has suffered three tragic deaths in town since October.

“The community has been hurting from several severe losses this year,” Jan Howe said. “And people, even amongst our church have been affected either in closeness to the tragedies that have happened here or in similar circumstances they’ve experienced in their own life in recent years. So we just felt we needed to bring the community together.”

About 25 people turned out, which is a good turnout for the church, she said, and about half of those people are not associated with the church.

“Some of them were directly affected by the things that happened in the community or very directly affected,” Jan Howe said. “I would say close to half were not regular attenders of this church. … I would say that, also, tonight there were a couple of people here that have had long-term losses, who are still having a hard time, and this seemed important to them, when they left here. It was another step to helping them come to grips with it, to learn to live with it. I don’t want to say acceptance or that the feelings are something that we will ever get over.”

Her husband, Rev. Peter Howe led the service and Dowling played the piano and harp. He said he pulled from different sources to create the contemplative service and included asking to attendees to light candles and meditate on an empty chair placed in front of the altar. He told attendees to use the empty chair to meditate on any loss they have or are experiencing.

“It was meant to be inclusive,” Peter Howe said. “It’s saying, ‘You’re welcome whatever your loss is.’ Is it a relational loss? Is it plans that didn’t work out?”

He also used scripture readings in the service that most people are familiar with.

“Using those scriptures as touchstones, that are familiar to people, they sustain people in a variety of ways and in the different ways people look at them,” Peter Howe said.

He added that these scriptures, such as Psalm 23, are often the go-to scripture for funerals and people need to know these scriptures are there to nourish the living. “‘Ok, we’re turning to Psalm 23 cause somebody’s has died.’ No, It’s for those of us who are living,” he said.

Blue Christmas church services are nothing new, but they are new to this area, the Howe’s said.

“The original idea of Blue Christmas really came out of a hospice. Where they do it once a year at Christmastime for families members of people who had lost somebody that year and they would say prayers. And the churches sort of adopted it and adapted it to be inclusive of many sadnesses,” Jan Howe said.

And sheplans to include a Blue Christmas service during the holiday season going forward. “Based on tonight being a positive turn out? I would say yes.”


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