Bringing comfort at Christmas

Episcopal Churches bring comfort to the grieving and the homeless over Christmas.

Thanks to EpiScope:

In Michigan:

As the lights dimmed inside a Madison Heights church, the worshippers strolled toward the front to light candles that floated on water.

One couple from Warren was mourning the recent death of their 43-year-old son. A Sterling Heights woman fretted about food costs and her husband’s job at General Motors Corp. And a Hazel Park parishioner thought of her husband’s demise earlier this year.

“Lord … we struggle with the challenges of this holiday season,” service leader Barb Marshall told the modest crowd Thursday evening at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. “Feelings of loneliness, weariness, economic distress and insecurity are surrounding us.”

Called a Blue Christmas, the somber ceremony was a first for St. Patrick’s and part of a small yet growing trend, with similar services held in several other metro Detroit churches. It’s one of the many ways local churches are approaching the holiday season at a time of economic anxiety for the region.

In Wilkes-Barre, PA:

On any given day there may be close to 100 homeless people in Luzerne County, according to advocates for those with no place to call their own. Of that number, 75 may be housed in shelters but the remainder refuse help, said Bill Jones from the Wilkes-Barre Volunteers of America.

To reach out to them, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Procathedral and the Luzerne County Homeless Coalition in Wilkes-Barre conducted the third annual “Homeless Persons’ Memorial” service on Sunday, the day of the winter solstice.

It was part of the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day commemorated in 90 communities across North America, according to organizers.

The reason some homeless don’t want help is because they don’t “trust” the agencies trying to help them, Jones said. “They don’t want to be part of the system,” he said.

Charitable organizations along with county government agencies try to assist the homeless, he said.

Homelessness is not necessarily an economic issue, said Jim Davis, community volunteer. Often the homeless are mentally ill, suffer from substance addictions or are victims of abuse, he added.

Mary Zack, administrative director of Ruth’s Place House of Hope and event organizer, said that last year 10 homeless people died “entirely preventable” deaths. Last year was a “bad year,” she said.

Since the coalition started counting three years ago the total number of homeless deaths locally adds up to 47.

The local homeless die from illness, exposure or violence and because of a lack of health care, housing and physical safety, Zack said. These are basic “rights,” she added.

In Cheyenne, Wyoming:

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church held a ‘Blue Christmas Service’ today as a way to acknowledge those who are in pain, and to provide them assurance that they are not alone. For most of the people who attended, it wasn’t as much about their religious beliefs as it was about finding others to confide in their sadness.

“When you hear and read the words that we read during the service, I think it’s just being around other people that may be experiencing the same thing,” Rev. Rick Veit said. “I think makes it easier or helpful to deal with.”

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In Mount Jackson, Virginia:

Not everyone will feel like decking the halls this Christmas.

And St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is saying that’s OK, offering a service geared especially toward those for whom Christmas is a sad time.

“The constant refrain of the happiness of the Christmas Season, about getting together with family and friends reminds many people of what they have lost or have never had,” says a news release from Carolyn Chilton, program director for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. “The anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation, the gut wrenching loss of a child, the loneliness of no longer having a beloved spouse to share each day, the loss of parents and friends — all these can contribute to a feeling of being alone, of ‘feeling blue’ in the midst of the society around us which seems bent on ‘being happy’ and ‘celebrating.'”

People turn to the church “for solace all the time,” said the Rev. Alexander MacPhail, rector of St. Andrew’s and Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Woodstock.

“I think the church is uniquely suited to be a place where people can sort of tell their story and feel comfortable, and the church can sort of help people through the processes of grief,” he said.

MacPhail says he goes “through a little bit of a slump” during the holidays, “and a lot of folks do, especially those who during the holidays remember loved ones who have died, and are not able to sort of enter the spirit of the season in the way that it’s expected.”

Read the rest here.

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