By Rick Wolcott*
The Blue Christmas service at Chapel UMC (Western Reserve District) in Madison drew people from communities across northeast Ohio to hear the Christmas story, light a candle, sing familiar Christmas songs, and experience Emmanuel – God with us.
“This is a service for people for whom Christmas might not be the happiest time. It’s an opportunity to help them reflect and remember that Christmas is about the hope of Jesus,” said the Rev. Jeremy Roseberry, pastor of Spencer UMC and Lafayette UMC (Firelands District).
He and the Rev. Lenore Robinson, pastor of Chapel UMC, co-hosted the Blue Christmas service for the second-consecutive year.
“It’s an incredible privilege to be able to bring this service of healing to the communities that we are in, and that’s what this is, reaching out into the communities and letting the people know about the healing and the hope that Christ can bring,” Robinson shared.
The service, offering the narrated and sung words of the Christmas musical All is Well created by Dennis and Nan Allen, featured clergy and laity from 11 congregations: Burbank Trinity UMC (Firelands District), Central Congregational Church, Chapel UMC, Chatham Community Church, Christ Presbyterian Church, LaGrange UMC (Firelands District), New Horizons Lutheran Church, Shoregate UMC (Western Reserve District), Spencer UMC, Wayne Presbyterian Church, and West Salem UMC (Firelands District).
“I came last year, and it was very uplifting, so I came back this year. The voices in the choir blend so beautifully together even though they come from different churches,” said Millie Bugbee, a member of Chapel UMC.
“I lost a grandmother, my very best friend grandmother, at Christmas-time last year,” said Shoregate UMC Pastor Jill Scott, who sang in the choir. “As down as I felt about that last year, and still do sometimes, I thought if I can do something to help raise someone’s spirits with the talent that God has given me, then I wanted to be part of this.”
“I tell the choir that when they volunteer and give of their time to sing they are loving their neighbors as themselves, and they are being blessed by God,” said Blue Christmas Service Choir Director Shari Brown, who attends Spencer UMC. “When we combine the narration and the spirit of the music together we are able to reach people’s souls in ways that you can’t always do by just speaking the words, and that, to me, is special.”
Brown met Robinson when the latter was pastor of Emmanuel UMC (Mid-Ohio District) in Ashland in 2012. They held the first Blue Christmas cantata that year. When Robinson was appointed to Spencer UMC in 2013, she invited Brown to do the service there. The Spencer congregation wanted to continue the yearly tradition after Robinson was appointed to Chapel UMC in 2017, so Roseberry reached out to the pastor he succeeded.
He and Robinson decided to join the choirs of their respective churches and invite people from other area churches to participate. The service is held one weekend in Spencer and one weekend in Madison, with the love offerings from each benefitting United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) hurricane relief and the Madison Ministerial Association help fund.
“This service is a great reminder of our connection as Christians,” Roseberry said. “It’s good to come together as one body to help out our communities by bringing a message of hope.”
A moving moment of the service occurs near the end, when worshippers are invited to light a candle as a symbol of hope and new beginnings.
“Light is powerful. Light makes things grow. With light, we can see where we are going,” Pastor Rick Hughes of Central Congregational Church shared during the service. “God’s light is always stronger than darkness, and God’s boundless love lights the way.”
Robinson told worshippers, “The lighted candle can honor the memory of a loved one, honor your journey back from the loss of a relationship, or help see you through the loss of your health or a job. It might represent just the first step in forgiving yourself, or others. It can also be your way of saying ‘I believe in the hope of the living God for my life that lives and breathes in me.’ As you come forward to light a candle, remember, that Christ’s healing light goes with us into our tomorrows and makes us whole.”
The Blue Christmas service with the All is Well cantata will be held at Spencer UMC (201 E. Main Street) at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 16. All are welcome to attend.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.