Service recognizes it can be a blue Christmas for many

Expectations for a merry Christmas abound this time of year.

For many people though, reality doesn’t always match up with a holiday that’s universally painted as festive, happy and bright. Personal struggles can instead overshadow any cause for celebration.

Recognizing that life’s circumstances can sometimes create more sadness than joy around the holidays, Rev. Shirley Ross Jones at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Alpena has planned a unique community-wide Blue Christmas service.

“Many people struggle with feelings of depression, loss and sadness during the Christmas season because of the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, a broken relationship, illness, a recent or upcoming move, or some other emotional trauma,” Ross Jones said. “The Blue Christmas service recognizes the burdens that people carry and reaches out to them with Scripture readings, music, prayers and a message of hope that focuses on the comfort that God offers during the dark times of life by shining Christ’s light into the broken places deep within us.”

The ecumenical service will be held this Sunday at 4 p.m. at St. Paul Lutheran Church, located at 727 S. Second, and is open to all. Participants will be invited to light a candle in memory of someone or to mark a significant loss in their lives as well as write names or situations on pieces of paper that will be placed into a basket, prayed for and then placed on the altar.

This is her second Christmas season here in Alpena since becoming the minister at St. Paul, and although Ross Jones wanted to offer the Blue Christmas service last season, she was still getting acclimatized to her new position.

“This year I feel very strongly about wanting to do it,” she said, adding that she’s well aware this is a retirement community with many older people, and consequently, more funerals each year. At the same time, others she encounters through her position are dealing with equally weighty issues.

“I talk to all sorts of people in conditions of need those who are battling depression or who have gone through divorce and a separation, an illness or loss of a job,” Ross Jones said. “The list goes on and on. I hear those stories all the time.”

Ross Jones was aware of Blue Christmas services held elsewhere in the country, but had never been a part of one until several years ago when she decided to pull one together at the church in Louisville, Ky., where she previously served for eight years. She researched some Blue Christmas services online, then picked and chose what she liked from those and tailored a service to fit her own congregation’s needs.

“I had lots people who said thank you afterward for recognizing this is a difficult time and for providing that space. This is a service that speaks to that, and in the midst is a message of hope that we still want to share,” she said.

Ross Jones conducted the service for five years in Louisville before moving to Alpena. A parishioner at her previous church wrote a story about the Blue Christmas observance and submitted it to the national Lutheran magazine, which opted to run it. As a result, she has had ministers from all over the country contact her about how to hold Blue Christmas services at their own churches.