Christmas is supposed to be a time filled with comfort, joy, and a time when everything is merry and bright – but for many people this is not the case. This time of the year can be quite depressing for people experiencing grief or the loss of a loved one. There are many reasons why a person finds this time of the year difficult. All the festivities going on around them may be adding to the sadness that they feel. It was for this reason that the Longest Night Service originated.
A member of St. John Lutheran Church (Vancouver, Washington) had been going through a time of grief after the death of her husband when she read about a Longest Night service. She was inspired to create this type of experience for her own church. She and others from St. John created a contemplative service that is held on December 21, the winter solstice, of each year. This will be the 12th year for this service at St. John.
Diane Stevens, who is part of the planning team, said the service really allows people to express their emotions and feel cared for.
“Personally, I think this service is a wonderful idea. There are so many people that are enduring hardship and have lost loved ones, and Christmas just rubs salt into the wounds. Everyone is supposed to be happy, right? This service lets people know that we care about them and that Christ offers hope for them. The sanctuary is dimly lit, so if people feel like crying they can do so without feeling uncomfortable,” she noted. “The service is great for people who are not experiencing loss also. It focuses on the reason for the season, Jesus Christ. As a musician, this is my favorite service of the year. We are able to do some very nice things musically that seem to touch a lot of people.”
The Longest Night is a quiet service with live music, prayers, and scripture readings. Towards the end of the service, the congregation will come forward, light a candle from the Christ candle, then move to the altar filled with small unlit candles which symbolize a person’s burdens. The person can then light one or more of the candles on the altar, symbolizing bringing Christ’s light to their burdens.
The idea is that by the time the service is over, each person will have peace and hope and the understanding that Christ is with them, even in their darkest hour. All are welcome to this memorable service.
The Longest Night service will be held Wednesday, December 21, at 7 p.m. at St. John Lutheran Church: 11005 NE Highway 99, Vancouver, WA 98686. Call 360-573-1461 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.