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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Church helps those feeling blue


The Rev. Joyce O'Connor-Magee of Manito United Methodist Church has candles symbolizing hope ready in the sanctuary for tonight's
The Rev. Joyce O'Connor-Magee of Manito United Methodist Church has candles symbolizing hope ready in the sanctuary for tonight's "Blue Christmas" service. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Virginia De Leon Staff writer

Despite all the holiday cheer, Christmas can be downright depressing for some people.

It’s hard to be joyful sometimes – especially if you’ve experienced a break-up, fallen seriously ill, lost a job or mourned the death of a loved one. Yet how do you grieve, how do you mend a broken heart when the rest of the world seems so merry?

Churches across the country are acknowledging people’s sorrow amid all the festivities by holding a service called “Blue Christmas.”

No, they’re not playing the Elvis song. But there won’t be any “Joy to the World” either.

Tonight on the solstice, the longest night of the year, churches like Manito United Methodist Church will give people the opportunity to simply sit in a candle-lit sanctuary, listen to gentle melodies and find solace amid the hustle and bustle of the season.

“This isn’t the happiest time of year for everyone,” said the Rev. Joyce O’Connor-Magee, pastor of the South Hill church. “People need some quiet time to honor loved ones and reflect on the losses of the year. Sometimes, you need to remember the sadness and just let it be.”

Even those who haven’t experienced loss might also suffer from loneliness during Christmastime, said O’Connor-Magee. “There’s this unrealistic expectation that we’re supposed to be happy all the time,” she said.

Manito UMC has been organizing this annual “Blue Christmas” for the past nine years. It’s a chance for people to grieve, to find respite from all the jolliness and to light a candle as a symbol of hope.

Last year, the service drew a crowd of more than 40 people including the Rev. Joey Olson of Spokane. Every year after Thanksgiving, Olson can’t help but think of her mother, who died 11 years ago during the holidays.

Last year’s Blue Christmas service gave her comfort during a painful time. “As a woman of faith, I understand that in the midst of sadness, there is a blessed joy because Jesus leads me to God,” she said.

The somber tone of the service also serves as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, said the Rev. Shelley Bryan Wee, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in north Spokane.

Sometimes, all the busyness and commercialism of the holidays can get in the way, she said.

“Even during the most difficult time of the year, we are not alone,” said Bryan Wee. “We have the promise that Jesus has come to be among us. … You don’t have to make cookies, buy presents or decorate your house. Christmas comes not because of what we do, but because of what God has done for us.”

About 17 people attended Zion’s “Blue Christmas” service last Wednesday. Many cried as they knelt in prayer and listened to “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Silent Night” and other solemn Christmas played on the piano.

Zion Lutheran hosted its last “Blue Christmas” service in 2001, shortly after the tragedy of Sept. 11. With the war, the poor economy and all the sadness in the world, Bryan Wee thought it would be a good idea to have another one this year.

Sickness, death, war, alcoholism and abuse don’t stop during the holidays, she said.

When people gather at Manito UMC this evening, O’Connor-Magee will ask each of them to light a candle – in honor of a loved one or as a way of shedding light on an issue or challenge in their life.

“Love is eternal and hope is possible, even on the darkest night of the year,” said O’Connor-Magee.

“The candle will hold back the darkness.”

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