Blue Christmas Service to be Held in Kane

There is a very active and collegial ministerial association in Kane.  Each month pastors and a few lay leaders from our many churches get together for lunch and spend an hour or two planning for the usual community worship services, a joint vacation bible school, and church participation in other local events.  

We also discuss community problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and mental health issues that isolate people from one another. It seems that for the last several months there have been many funerals of both elderly members of our congregations, and as a result of unexpected deaths of younger people. In a town the size of Kane, where we all know one another, the losses, whether of loved ones, employment, or health, are shared losses, and deeply felt, especially as the holidays approach.  

And so it was that at our October meeting, Pastor Jan brought up the idea of having an ecumenical “Blue Christmas” service for people who have suffered a loss of a loved one, or are dealing with other problems that can make holidays difficult and depressing. She had gathered information from a few websites and from other churches in our area which have held such an event.  After a bit of discussion, a committee was formed to look at the idea further.

When the Blue Christmas committee met, we brought together a wealth of materials from many denominations and traditions. We had each collected scripture, litanies, prayers, poems and music. I found several selections on Episcopal Church websites, as well as in our Year C Planning for Rites and Rituals resource book.  

As we discussed what we had pulled together, we recognized that feelings of loss and hopelessness are not limited to adults. Children are deeply affected when a family has experienced a crisis. Heather, one of our youngest pastors, volunteered to have a separate gathering on site for elementary aged children using books and activities that she had pulled together.  She is also looking into bringing in a service dog which is trained to work especially with children in emotional distress.

As the plan for a candlelight service began to form in our minds, we chose the evening of Friday, December 21, the longest night of the year, as the date.  St. John’s was chosen for the location because of its intimate size and comforting atmosphere. Pastor David with his years of chaplain experience will present a homily, and we hope to have a counselor from Hospice speak as well. There will be clergy and lay persons from all of the churches leading the worship time.  Music will include both traditional hymns, Taize, and instrumental, but not Christmas carols as such, since they can be powerful emotional triggers.  Following the service we have planned a time of fellowship with refreshments, as well as the opportunity for people to talk with clergy and other professional counselors. 

With our initial publicity about this event, we have had good feedback so far, and a lot of interest.  We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor that we may touch the hearts and minds of many who are suffering, and help them to begin to heal.

Becky Harris is a member of St. John’s, Kane. 

Editor’s Note: All are welcome to attend the Blue Christmas Service at St. John’s on Friday, December 21 at 7:00 PM.

Victorian Christmas Brings Community to Holy Trinity

Rarely am I rendered speechless, but Saturday was such an occasion.  It began with the complete transformation of our parish hall into an img_2051art gallery.  We took every shred of furniture to a giant closet upstairs and constructed large frames with black over them on which to hang art; we flipped bookshelves and desks to create gallery space.  And we filled the entire place with local artists, exhibiting photography, paintings, drawings, felting, and ceramics.  This is to say nothing of the sanctuary, in which the Stations of the Cross were replaced with bright linoleum prints by a famous local artist, and which was host to five different musical performances that afternoon, from young violinists to well-known guitarists and dulcimer players.

But here’s the piece de resistance: we also hosted the Chamber of Commerce Wine Walk, which guaranteed loads of people would be in our img_2065building to see the art and hear the music.  Our folks provided an array of tasty cookies, cheeses (horseradish takes blue ribbon), and meatballs, providing hospitality to all the people who came through our space that day.  One of our members stood outside in the cold all afternoon to direct people and convince them that yes, the winery was really in the parish hall- it wasn’t a bizarre joke.

It took all of us pulling together; Holy Trinity is a small congregation, numbering in the img_2070twenties.  So, why, you might ask, did we go to all the trouble?  Because that Saturday is the biggest Saturday in our town: part of the annual Victorian Christmas Celebration.  You want to prove community buy-in?  Then you must show up for the main events.  We have a wonderfully gifted musical couple who organized the art and music; the rest of the congregation had the interest and willingness to provide good hospitality.  And voila, a brilliant event was born.

We had fun.  Yes, it was work.  Yes, I collapsed on my couch in a dark room after the event concluded.  But it was a blast and a complete success: now over 400 people have discovered where Holy Trinity is.  I heard people coming in say they didn’t know this church was here; as they left, my greeter heard them say it was such a warm church.  Mission accomplished!  The full mission of reaching people for Jesus?  Of course not. But getting people to know we exist in the community, that’s a terrific first step, and we’re working on how to follow-up.

I’ve gone from speechless to gushing, but I’m wicked proud of everyone’s work and everyone’s joy in the work.  The work of getting known in img_2061-2a community, of sharing the love of God, is one that takes time and commitment; it requires understanding of what church is and how church is not about the people who already attend, but about those who do not yet attend.  I’m gushing because that transformation is taking place at Holy Trinity.  It will take time; it will be hard work.  But the Holy Spirit is moving in new directions, at Holy Trinity and in this diocese.  I’m excited and scared and interested to see just what she will do in our midst to change us and our communities.

Melinda Hall is vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville

Most of These Faces Should Be Brown

We are inundated with images of Christianity all the time.  One of the most iconic of these images at Christmas time is the Nativity. $_35We see the nativity acted out in our churches, set up next to our Christmas trees, on our front lawns and even on our town squares.  It is rare to find one of these nativity scenes where Jesus, Mary, Joseph, 2 of the three kings and the shepherd are not white.  Scholars tend to agree that Jesus was light brown or copper in skin tone.  In an interview with the Washington Post, Reza Aslan, scholar of religious studies at the University of California, said, “Well, what we know about him is that he was Galilean. As a Galilean, he would have been what is referred to as a Palestinian Jew. He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today. So that would mean dark features, hairy, probably a longer nose, black hair.”

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So why do we represent Jesus and most of the rest of the figures in the nativity as white? Aslan goes on to say, “The foundational metaphor for God in Christianity is man. What is God? Christianity tells you God is man, and so man is the metaphor for what God is in Christianity.”  So, “if you are a white, middle-class suburbanite, then so is your Jesus.” The beauty of this is that Jesus can have meaning for you in whatever way you picture humanity.  The danger is that if your picture of humanity encompasses only one image then many get left out.  Why is our image of Jesus so often white? What does this say about us as Christians, Episcopalians and members of our local congregations?  Who are we inviting? Who are we excluding?

Julien Goulet, Assistant for Communications and Administration, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania