By The Reverend Dr. Jo Forrest
After reading all the stories submitted to mark the 125th anniversary, here is one of my stories.
During October 2012, about 6-weeks into my new position, I was with the Stephen Leaders to plan our December meeting. Wisely, one leader cautioned us to remember that before we launch into the hotly competitive ornament exchange we needed to care for these Stephen Ministers who were caring for individuals who may be experiencing what seems a merciless time of the year. “Merciless” in the ethos that everyone else is able to appear jolly while others quietly grieve the death of a marriage, job, dream, or loved one. And it is so dark outside.
Sheepishly, I asked if a neighboring congregation offered a Blue Christmas service. Crickets. Not a word. One leader broke the silence by saying, “I don’t know what it is, but I think I want one.”
Later that day, I had a meeting with a couple of trustees on an unrelated topic and floated the idea of a Blue Christmas. I described it as “a service for those who find Christmas difficult to bear amidst recent loss or depression.” In sarcasm and tender wisdom one trustee counseled “we should, but we don’t admit to getting blue on the North Shore.” Then another confided, “I want something not all polished with triumphant bells. We work so hard to make everything perfect and glittery. Perhaps something quieter.” That’s how we got to the name of Quiet Christmas.
Since I still felt like an outsider at Kenilworth Union (and probably was suspected of being one) I was amazed to witness people clear their calendars to meet in early December. We planned. Refreshments had to avoid “anything with frosting.” Candles were needed. Music could not burden the already taxed music staff. Immediately, members volunteered to sing and play. No one wanted a sermon.
On the designated night, we covered a long table in the Schmidt Chapel with a brown tablecloth (no festive colors). My dilemma: if I put out an abundance of candles, it would look puny if only 20 people showed up and lit a candle…but we really, really hoped about 30 people might attend.
As the snow thickened (no!), one couple arrived with a teddy bear to put in the chancel. Was this in memory of the 26 young lives killed the prior week in Newtown? I never asked. Hearts grieved deeply.
Those of us who planned the service sat near the front. Readers sat throughout the chapel.
When it came time to invite participants forward to light a candle with a private prayer for something—healing, courage, comfort, or gratitude—we all kind of wondered if anyone would want to do so. A line formed in the aisle. I added, and added, and then added more candles. Maybe 80 or so candles were lit and prayers offered. It was quiet. It was holy.
Only the work of the Holy Spirit could move us from seeing the need to care for one another to birth a new worship experience in 6-weeks. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this congregation was willing to risk a new thing for others. In the safety of the Holy Spirit, people became vulnerable with one another. Quiet Christmas is almost synonymous with Holy Spirit for me.
Tuesday, December 19 will be our sixth Quiet Christmas. Each year is a bit different and each year we have welcomed those from within and outside Kenilworth Union to light a candle against the dark. Hope to see you on Tuesday.