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

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Interfor’s Castlegar mill is getting $35 million in upgrades. Photo by: John Boivin
Interfor to invest $35 million at Castlegar mill

Project will enhance productivity and competitiveness

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Most Read