Monday, December 16, 2013

Third Monday of Advent: Healing

At my previous church I started a Blue Christmas service. If you're not familiar with this, it is meant to be a time to acknowledge that the holidays are not really a joyful time for many people for a variety of reasons: grief, loneliness, stress, etc. It was never a packed service--we averaged between 10-20 every year--but numbers wasn't my main concern. It was a needed ministry for those who came, and its low-key nature always spoke to me as well.

I decided to go ahead and organize a Blue Christmas service in my new setting. This was before I'd experienced a full year here, but I figured that I'd been here long enough that a new service like this wouldn't be a big deal.

The central act of Blue Christmas as I've organized it has always been giving people an opportunity to come forward and light candles for the season's burdens. I'd set tea lights on tables along the front, and as people feel moved they may come forward and participate.

As it turns out, this practice is already observed on All Saints where I am. We observe totenfest, remembering those who have died over the past year, and then people may come forward and light candles for others whom they wish to remember. The more I thought about it, the more I didn't want this new service to seem redundant. So I opted to make Blue Christmas a healing service instead, complete with oil of anointing and prayers of healing for the season's burdens. I led healing services quite regularly in my previous setting, and this seemed like an appropriate event during which to hold one.

I have to admit that I've never fully understood what I'm doing during a healing service. It's something that I inherited where I was, and so I took the time to learn what happens as I went. There is a bit of a stigma around such things, conjuring images of television hucksters causing people to convulse on stage with the slightest touch. As I've come to understand it, the emphasis of these services as I've led them has been spiritual rather than the miraculous. People speak their concern, receive oil and prayers, and are encouraged to go in peace.

This was pretty much what happened last night. Again, it wasn't a big crowd, but those who were there needed to be there, seeking healing each in their own way. Joy can be more elusive than we care to admit this time of year; if this brief time to be quiet and to receive these gestures may aid in our finding it, then let it not be withheld. I muddle through it along with those seeking its benefits, hoping that a new sense of God's presence will carry them forward.