I still remember my father writing a large number on the calendar every week or two. Maybe it would start around 782. Next time, 745 and so on, until he made it back to a single-digit number. What was he doing? He was calling the union office at his appointed time, maybe once every week or two. I had some understanding that as an electrician, he worked steadily when the economy was good and not-as-steadily in the non-building months (or when the economy was sluggish). He wanted to work; I remember him only calling in sick two times in my life. But sometimes, the economy had something to say about his work routine.
I mention my blue-collar upbringing because I realize I was very fortunate as a kid. Christmas came and went every year, seemingly without a hitch. But as an adult, I can only imagine what went on behind the scenes. I knew things were tight, even with my mom working. They managed to keep the stress of the holiday season from us.
By RICK SCHULTE
Financial stress is only one of the issues that can arise during the holidays. Death of a loved one, relationship issues, loneliness, the list can be quite lengthy. Often, reminders of sad or challenging times, juxtaposed against a backdrop of the rest of the world seeming happy and carefree, can place a giant weight on some people.
Thankfully, several churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan are addressing this in different ways. Here are a few of their stories.
Recognizing some people are experiencing a ‘Blue Christmas’
Around the end of the last decade, as the economy was experiencing as serious downturn, St. Patrick’s, Madison Heights hosted its first Blue Christmas service. Over time, the need for this quiet, Christmas-time gathering
“So many people were losing their jobs and homes,” said the Rev.Paul LeClair. “Over the years people have come who are experiencing their first Christmas without a loved one who has died.
“Some have troubling memories of childhood neglect, abuse, or abandonment at Christmas; others seek calm and quiet relief from the stress of the holidays. Financial struggles still linger and there are also people who are facing health challenges.”
In a new twist this year, under the diocese’s continuing theme of “Waters of Reconciliation,” the suburban and predominantly-white members of St. Patrick’s welcomed members from St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s, a historic African-American church in Detroit as they celebrated Blue Christmas together.
“Old friendships were rekindled, new relationships were established and our spiritual gifts were shared,” LeClair said.
At the other end of the diocese, All Saints, East Lansing continued its longstanding tradition of hosting a similar service.
The Rev. Kit Carlson, pastor at All Saints, notes she has offered Longest Night services prior to her coming to All Saints in 2007. A specific need is met with the service.
“They are not robustly-attended events. Maybe a dozen people, ” she said. “But they are the 12 or so people who most need to be there on that night because cultural Christmas is not working for them.”
A quiet atmosphere affords the opportunity for “silent prayers for whatever griefs or burdens people want to offer, and a chance to light candles, also done silently,” Carlson said. People come to the service with different needs to address. Often, the issues in need of prayer are of a personal nature. She also believes many of her parishioners are concerned about the state of the country following the recent presidential elections.
“In the past few years, we have had widows grieving the loss of their spouses, people fighting cancer, a couple who had a recent miscarriage,” she said.
All Saints offers a portable labyrinth in the sanctuary, which can be part of the service or can be used at a different time.
Take My Hand: Remembering the victims of suicide and those left behind
St. Mary’s-in-the-Hills, Lake Orion, is gaining traction in its community with its Take My Hand outreach, which offers support and raises awareness of suicide among people of all ages. The program came in response to a rising number of suicides in Oakland County.
A service will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21 with a specific purpose.
“This is a way to remember people that have lost the battle with suicide, in a way that honors their life and their struggle,” said the Rev. Laurel Dahill, rector at St. Mary’s-in-the-Hills. “It’s also a chance for family and friends to know, yes, it’s hard, but they are not alone.”
Dahill explained that dealing with the loss of a loved one is always difficult, no matter the cause of death. However, society as a whole is still trying to understand the root of suicide and how to respond appropriately.
“There’s so much shame involved,” she said. “You can’t feel you express your grief the same way you do as with a death from a heart attack or a car accident. People don’t know what to say.”
Dahill said recently, suicide claimed a 14-year-old member of the community. She noted, as an example, the issue of how society perceives suicide comes into play. It’s entirely possible the parent of a young suicide victim have feelings of not only loss, but failure.
“It’s problematic as a youngster,” she said. “That feeling that you failed as a parent. And its too much to bear.”
All are invited to the memorial service. Whether you have been touched by suicide or not, it’s an opportunity to provide support.
“We will be there to remember those who died, but also for those who are living,” Dahill said. “It’s important just being present, so that folks struggling with this can walk in and see lots of other folks and know they aren’t alone. They don’t have to be ashamed, they can be affirmed.”
Spirit of Grace opens its doors on Christmas – even after the morning services are over
Spirit of Grace, West Bloomfield is in its second year of creating a special Christmas day for those who really need it.
“We don’t want people to be alone on Christmas, nor to have no Christmas dinner because they can’t afford to feed everyone,” said the Rev. Mary Duerksen, pastor of the combined Episcopal-Lutheran community.
According to Duerksen, the Rev. Steve Bancroft (associate priest at Spirit of Grace) suggested trying it in West Bloomfield after experiencing such an event at a church in Texas, where he previously served.
“Our Community Action Team took it from there and got to work,” Duerksen said. “Last year, we served a complete ham and turkey dinner to over 100 guests. We had volunteers from our congregation, but also from our community. People who come to our exercise classes volunteered. A local doctor who is Muslim volunteered along with his daughter.”
This Christmas, guests will also be able to get a picture taken with Santa Claus, live music, food and good company.
No reservations are needed to attend, but an RSVP to the church office at (248) 338-3505 would be appreciated. There will be two seatings on Christmas day, at noon and 1:30 p.m. You may also inquire if you need a ride to Spirit of Grace.
Rick Schulte is Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.