Daughter: “Where were you, Mom? We’re going to be late. Pastor S____________ told us to come to the church an hour early so we can put on our costumes for the Christmas play. I’m one of the angels, and it’s going to take time to pin the wings on.”
Mother: “I stopped by to see Sister M____________. She lost her husband, and I wanted to check on her. Besides, with all the actors, singers, and musicians, I’m sure you won’t be missed if you’re a couple minutes late.”
Daughter: “I think Pastor S____________ was just a little anxious because this year’s Christmas program is extra-special. We’ll have live animals, two choirs, an orchestra, and a singing Christmas tree.”
The holiday season is always a busy time for Adventists. Our churches and schools are busy planning concerts, plays, and pageants. Throughout North America we’re adorning our sanctuaries with seasonal decorations and icons. It’s a time of true joy and fellowship. Even as I write this, my family is preparing for a concert in our local church.
Along with the pageants and plays come all sorts of dinners, parties, and gatherings that make the season a festive occasion. And if we’re not planning dinners, we’re organizing food baskets or collecting toys to share the Christmas spirit with disadvantaged families.
These activities are important, serving a meaningful purpose. For some, it’s the one time of the year that members are most active in church events. In many churches, holiday events are major outreach initiatives, during which members can invite neighbors to church.
Even though these activities are essential, it’s easy to forget that for some of our fellow members the holidays are anything but merry. For many, the holidays are a season of sadness and depression—especially for those who’ve suffered a loss. It’s during the holiday season that survivors are flooded with memories of their departed loved ones.
Grief experts tell us that feelings of grief occur not only in cases of death but also with the loss of a job or home, a major move, a divorce, or simply when a family member leaves home.
In times like these the church can be a resource, helping people to cope with the holidays. I know of one church in Maryland that takes the time during the worship service each December to remember all the families that suffered a death during the past year. As the name of every member who has suffered a loss is read aloud, the elders give them lovely poinsettia plants.
Another way to help those who grieve is to make sure they don’t spend the holidays alone, because that’s when they’re most vulnerable. To alleviate this, church members should be proactive in including them in their holiday celebrations and festivities. Some churches have gone so far as to conduct special candlelight ceremonies during the holiday season. Called “Longest Night” or “Blue Christmas” services, the worship experiences include Scripture readings, music, liturgy, and messages especially for those suffering a loss.*
I recently learned that thousands of churches offer ongoing support ministries for those who’ve suffered a loss. The ministries primarily consist of support groups that feature multistep curriculums designed to guide people through the grieving process.
These are just a few ideas about how your congregation can comfort and affirm those who are grieving during the holidays. With just a little forethought and planning, your congregation may turn someone’s Christmas from blue to merry.
Carlos Medley was online editor of the Adventist Review when he wrote this article, which was originally published December 20, 2012.
* Judith Cebula, “A Light in the Darkness: Coping with Grief Over the Holidays,” O, The Oprah Magazine, December 2007. In times like these, the church can be a resource.