Beaver Dam church service acknowledges sorrows of the season
Christmas is not always a happy time, and Trinity Church — United Methodist will help those who are suffering at the “Service of the Longest Night” this Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
The Rev. Cherie Forret brought the service to Beaver Dam last year — her first year at Trinity Church. She has held that type of service for about a decade, having encountered or held them at pastorships in Milwaukee, Madison and Eau Claire.
“I experienced it beginning to emerge sometime around 2000, after we were getting better at identifying the fact that not everybody’s happy during this season,” Forret said. “It first started as a ‘Blue Christmas Celebration’ because we have the Elvis Presley song that so many people are familiar with.”
There are many causes for people, or the congregation, to feel the holiday blues.
“It might be Christmas without a family member, or a divorced parent not able to have the children, or facing a health crisis or an illness,” Forret said. “It could be people who have seasonal affective disorder, who really struggle at this time when people ask, ‘Why aren’t you happy?’ Our culture says this should be a joyous celebration. Sometimes it can be; other times we struggle over how that connects with how we’re really feeling.”
Services in previous parishes have also focused on local or national tragedies, such as the loss of valued church members, or a major employer, or a shooting, or whatever difficulties the community might be facing.
Holding the service on or around the winter solstice (the day with the least amount of daylight) connects with the idea of darkness, and Jesus arriving soon as the “light of the world.”
While the solstice is actually on the 21st, holding it on a Thursday night was deemed to be the best course of action.
The service offers a more peaceful holiday message. Ushers and greeters are sensitive to the guests’ frame of mind, and to treat them gently.
“The people who attend may not necessarily feel better by the end of the service, but it does offer them all a chance to sit back and recapture the true spirit of the holiday,” Forret said. “We just have to honor where our guests are. Our theological concept is that God shows up to sit with us, wherever we are and however we are feeling, and will accept that and be present for us.”
Forret added that the event is open to all in the community, as are all services. Those who are not necessarily sad during the holidays are also welcome to share the peaceful reflection that the service affords.
The informal service will include scripture readings, prayer, candle lighting and special music that allows for peaceful reflection. It will last about 45 minutes.
Some may enjoy the fellowship that follows as they desire.
“When it is finished, some people will stay after and share our fellowship,” Forret said. “We’re hoping that everyone who attends will feel it is a safe place to be, and that it meets whatever need they are experiencing at this time.”
“Whatever it is that keeps you from fully entering what the world around you is telling you to feel, this provides a quiet place to reflect,” Forret said. “This will hopefully help us land in the sacred part of the season, apart from the commercial frenzy that sometimes takes over Christmas. Hopefully this helps people escape from that pressure.”
Although other churches may offer similar services, Forret expects that the Trinity service will continue to find a loyal following.
“It has become part of the rhythm for us and for Beaver Dam,” Forret said. “I think we’ll probably continue to do this and the year will point us to what it has to be.”