Rev. Gerry Michalski at Soul Sanctuary, left, in Winnipeg is photographed with Julia and Kevin Garratt prior to their recording of their Blue Christmas service Saturday, December 12, 2020. The Garratts spent thirty years working in China on humanitarian and social projects until one day they were taken into custody and spent the following two years in a Chinese prison. Blue Christmas services are subdued, low key services for those struggling with grief during the holidays, and this year they’re being held online due to the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Rev. Gerry Michalski at Soul Sanctuary, left, in Winnipeg is photographed with Julia and Kevin Garratt prior to their recording of their Blue Christmas service Saturday, December 12, 2020. The Garratts spent thirty years working in China on humanitarian and social projects until one day they were taken into custody and spent the following two years in a Chinese prison. Blue Christmas services are subdued, low key services for those struggling with grief during the holidays, and this year they’re being held online due to the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

‘So much loss:’ Blue Christmas services go virtual during COVID-19 pandemic

Islington United Church in Toronto held a 45-minute online Blue Christmas last Wednesday with 50 participants

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, people would trickle into a dim and quiet Winnipeg church on one of the longest nights of the year to lament their losses by lighting candles, praying together and sometimes writing out their feelings and shredding the paper.

Soul Sanctuary is one of many churches across Canada to hold annual Blue Christmas services, sombre and subdued evenings for anyone experiencing grief or sadness around the holidays.

On Dec. 21, the winter solstice, Soul Sanctuary is holding a virtual Blue Christmas service, because the pandemic has made it unsafe to gather in person.

“Like everybody else, we’re walking through this and just trying to bring a little bit of light into the tunnel,” said lead pastor Gerry Michalski.

There will be singing, reflections on Scripture and the opportunity for people to speak one on one with pastors.

There will also be a recorded talk by Kevin and Julia Garratt, who wrote a book about their time in Chinese detention. For about three decades, the Canadian couple lived in China, where they did Christian aid work and ran a coffee shop. They were arrested in 2014 on spying accusations.

“They know what it’s like being locked up at Christmas,” said Michalski. “There’s nothing greater than the power of story.”

At Sherwood Park Alliance Church, east of Edmonton, a typical Christmas service attracts about 4,000 people, but Blue Christmas gets a small fraction of that.

Between 25 and 35 are expected for the church’s virtual offering on Wednesday, said lead pastor Greg Hochhalter.

The service is an extension of weekly online gatherings the church has held throughout the pandemic to provide spiritual and mental-health support, he said.

“It’s sort of become part of our new rhythm,” said Hochhalter. “Maybe you can even call it part of our new normal to provide regular gathering points for people who just need a place to go and process their loss.”

Hochhalter said he wants his congregants to know whatever they are feeling is valid.

“There’s a lot of prayers that sometimes seem like they’re bouncing off the ceiling and falling to the floor and maybe God doesn’t seem like he’s responding in the way you would hope,” he said.

“It’s OK to be mad at God. We give people permission to walk through lament, if that’s what they need to do.”

In British Columbia, Kamloops United Church held its online Blue Christmas service on Dec. 1 and posted a video to YouTube for congregants to watch any time.

Participants were invited to light candles to acknowledge loss of life, livelihood, love and liveliness. A fifth candle was lit to express hope for more light.

“This year especially, the time of pandemic, we’re feeling a lot of losses,” said Rev. Michael Caveney.

“We are feeling the loss of mobility. We’re not able to travel around as we would like. We’re feeling the loss of our families. We can’t go and visit our families for Christmas.”

Islington United Church in Toronto held a 45-minute online Blue Christmas last Wednesday with 50 participants.

There were readings, prayers and an invitation to light candles at home. People could linger afterwards to hear piano music or break out into one-on-one prayer sessions.

“There’s so much loss and it’s hard to name that, because people are soldiering through,” said lead minister Rev. Maya Landell.

“It’s not only the people we’ve lost to death, but there’s just so much loss of connection and regular activity. It can be a really heavy burden to carry alone.

“We’re each losing something and we’re each trying to find hope for the next day.”

Landell said the colour blue not only represents sadness but is also associated with the Advent period leading up to Christmas and the Virgin Mary.

“And it’s the colour of the sky when the light dawns,” said Landell. “It’s the sense that the new thing is coming.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

“Skeena,” by John Hudson and Paul Hanslow is one of five fonts in the running to become the default for Microsoft systems and Office programs. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Font named after Skeena River could become the next Microsoft default

One of the five new fonts will replace Calibri, which has been Microsoft’s default since 2007

Accessibility improvements and more classrooms at the Houston Christian School should be completed by the new school year. (Houston Today photo)
Accessibility improvements coming to Houston Christian School

Construction package includes two classrooms

The soft opening of the nature centre at the Buck Creek CANFOR hatchery took place mid-April. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)
Houston hatchery and nature centre’s upcoming events

The conservation group to host summer students this year

Council wants a say in the expansion of long term care services in Smithers. Pictured here is the Bulkley Lodge facility in that community. (Google photo)
Long term care remains on council priority list

Wants to be involved in expansion plans in Smithers

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Mary Kitagawa was born on Salt Spring Island and was seven years old when she was interned along with 22,000 B.C. residents in 1942. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds health services for survivors of Japanese internment

Seniors describe legacy of World War II displacement

Most Read