23 December 2014 by thaliakr
A warm welcome to guest poster, Melanie Carroll, who is writing today about the Blue Christmas service she ran on the weekend.
Melanie is married to Sean and has two young adult children. She trained at Carey Baptist College in Auckland, New Zealand, but is currently living across the ditch in Sydney where she is an Associate Pastor at Frenchs Forest Baptist Church. She is particularly interested in Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality.
What is a Blue Christmas Service?
The concept of a Blue Christmas Service was new for me this year. The idea behind the services is to provide a quiet, contemplative service as an alternative to the more traditional gatherings as a way to care for those who are sad or struggling whilst those around them are caught up in celebrating.
In the northern hemisphere they are also known as Longest Night Services and both tend to be held around 21–22 December.
We have a number of people in our congregation who are struggling with different kinds of pain and loss at the moment and I thought a service of this kind might appeal to them. Not only that, but many people in our local community have said in passing that they are ‘not feeling very Christmassy’ this year.
Services like this provide an opportunity for people to hear not about the baby in the manger, who can be dismissed as irrelevant, but about the God of love who comes to us in the midst of the mess and pain we know in our own everyday lives and the lives of those around us.
You can follow along with the whole service here, or continue reading for behind-the-scenes insights.
10 Things I Learned from Preparing a Blue Christmas Service
It took a lot of work at an already busy time of year, but it was so worth it. Services like these provide space for us to connect with hurting people and share the message of real hope we have, but they bless us too – the day after the service I still have lots to do, but I also have a deep sense of peace. I’m also already looking forward to the next Blue Christmas!
The preparation was challenging and interesting – so many things to think through: from décor – what shade of blue communicates the mood we are hoping to speak into? How can I decorate this space well, avoiding tacky decorations, but stick to a small budget? Who might we upset by putting ‘Xmas’ on the church sign? (not enough of the letter ‘c’) to theology – most of the resources I discovered online needed quite a bit of adapting to suit an Australian Baptist context. I found myself wondering “would we say that?” quite a lot.
The concept is easy enough to explain to people – ‘a gentle, contemplative service of hope for the hurting’ but the people who are hurting aren’t likely to come to our services unless someone they trust brings them.
The service is about nurturing people. There are so many opportunities to do this. You can:
- make the space look beautiful
- provide a lovely supper
- select music and visuals to match the mood (I didn’t limit myself to Christmas music and used a wide variety of styles)
- think about the language you will use, platitudes just aren’t going to cut it with people in pain
- explain up front what is going to happen in the service
- allow people the freedom to choose how and what to participate in
- have people (male and female) who can quietly come alongside people to be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on or someone to pray with and people with some counselling experience on hand if needed.
Having a piece of music playing in the background when an activity was offered meant that people could legitimately remain in their seats and reflect/rest in God’s presence if they didn’t feel like coming up to light a candle or to take communion and seemed to work well.
I didn’t ask people to sing. We said Psalm 23 together. I put a modern version on the screen but invited people to say which ever version was most meaningful to them to try to cater for both unchurched visitors and King James lovers.
Creating and maintaining the right mood means you need to be calm and composed (which can be a bit of a challenge at this time of year) – personally I needed to make a conscious effort not to talk or move too much or too quickly. I also found I needed to remind myself to ‘think funeral service’ to stay relatively subdued. Being prepared and having appropriate music playing before the first people arrived was really helpful for me, as was having everything written down and timed.
It doesn’t matter that it isn’t dark like it is in the Northern hemisphere, candles are still effective, and you can do a lot with 45-50 mins and still have time for supper – this means you can legitimately advertise your service as lasting an hour, but realistically people might hang around a bit longer.
The service took a lot of detailed planning – I enjoyed it but it was pretty time consuming. It might suit other people to divide and conquer. Being able to plan in advance means you can share the load and pre-book your volunteers, especially when there are so many competing events.
This kind of service suited our congregation which is skilled at coming alongside people to love and serve them. As churches we have limited resources, we don’t all need to try and do everything. At this time of year people in our local community are going from one event to the next to the next to the next. Most of these events are of a pretty high standard. If we invite busy people to something that isn’t well done they’re not going to be very receptive to the gospel message we want to share with them.
The first time took lots of effort and time and, as I expected, only a handful of people came. However I am more convinced than ever that there is a real need for services like this to be a regular part of our Christmas offering.
Next time round, not only is most of the hard work already done and most of the props and decorations already sourced, but I can probably get away with repeating most of what I prepared this year because only a few people will have heard it before!
Do You Want to Offer a Blue Christmas Service?
There are a few different resources online you can use as a starting point. If you’re interested I can give the a list of the ones I found most helpful – just ask in the comments or contact me via our church.
The service I designed was a patchwork of ideas from different places, adapted to suit our context and worded to try to cater for both regular church goers and occasional visitors.
Have you ever been to a Blue Christmas service? I would love to hear about your experience. Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me privately.
If you would like to experience a Blue Christmas service but there isn’t one near you, here is an example you might like to pray through in a quiet space.
And if Christmas is a time of mixed emotions for you, I hope that you are able to find some peace, rest and time to acknowledge the hard things, in the middle of the merry bustle around you. God bless those who mourn.