Blue Christmas reflects on loss, hope

AST holds service for those feeling blue during the holidays

Blue Christmas services help people with their feelings of loss or isolation during the holiday season. (Photo: Dane Butler)

The holiday season is generally a time for joy and celebration, but not everyone feels up to the reverie. This is what a Blue Christmas service is about.

For people who feel isolated, have suffered trauma, or have lost a loved one the holiday season can amplify negative feelings.

On Friday, Helen McFadyen, a second-year master of divinity student at the Atlantic School of Theology (AST) will be holding a non-denominational Blue Christmas service on the campus of AST.

Blue Christmas services themselves are not new. Denominational churches hold them, traditionally on the longest night of the year, Dec. 21. Bound by the logistics of being a student, McFadyen is holding her service Friday night as AST will be closing for the holidays before the traditional day.

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St. Columba Chapel at the Atlantic School of Theology

Details of Blue Christmas at AST:

Friday Dec. 10, 2010

St. Columba chapel

640 Francklyn St., Halifax

7:15 p.m.

The non-denominational aspect of the service is new for AST. "But I think it's extremely good for students [at AST] to stretch a little bit, to understand that whatever faith they hold dear is not necessarily shared by other people."

Although the service at AST will be held on campus in the St. Columba chapel, which contains Christian imagery, the service itself is not Christian. McFadyen recognizes the problem of holding a non-denominational service in a denominational space but she says the surroundings are "less important than what happens in the actual service."

McFadyen says that Blue Christmas should be non-denominational, to not be so would be "shutting the door to people who may need this time of witness."

Jennifer Volsky Rushton is a registered psychologist and co-ordinator of clinical training with Dalhousie Counselling Services. Volsky Rushton also leads a support group on the Dal campus called Living with Loss. "The void that's left when someone dies is often felt more strongly [during the holidays]," Volsky Rushton said in an email, "and there is a need for families to re-evaluate their traditions."

The service itself, McFadyen says, is quite simple. It begins with a prayer of acknowledgment that illustrates Christmas can be a tough time for some, "that people still suffer the ravages of war, and the burden of oppression." In war everyone suffers, the civilians and the soldiers.

There is a time for those in attendance to light "candles of concern." At this time, if a person wishes, they may speak to why they are attending the service. After the candle lighting McFadyen will offer a reflection.

The goal of the service is to provide a "respectful time of witness," McFadyen says, "after that kind of acknowledgment, of this tremendous kind of sadness ... that there is a bit of hope."
The service is multi-voice, the litany is broad and will feature many readers speaking on various subjects on the theme of loss and hope.

There is a band to play at the service and songs are performed. The music is selected to create a mood. "People really like that emotive music," McFadyen says, "And the band is good, what can I say?"

The service is non-denominational but the word God is mentioned in some readings -- not God in the Christian or monotheistic sense - but as an expression of general belief. To explain, McFadyen cites the late Unitarian Universalist theologian Forrest Church: "God is our name for that which is greater than all, but present in each."

"Each person deals with grief in their own unique way," Volsky Rushton writes, "some need more support at this time, but not others."

"So we leave on a note of quiet, gentle optimism, to be open to the possibilities that one day, that which people are struggling with will be overcome."


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