The four weeks of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, are marked by candles and also are serving as a framework of sorts for Esperanza Lutheran’s special service tonight, Dec. 20, to help people cope with the loss of a loved one.
Special to AFN

Christmas isn’t merry for everyone, especially people who have lost a loved one.

To help them through what can be a difficult time, Esperanza Lutheran Church, 2601 E. Thunderhill Place, Ahwatukee, is holding a special service at 7 p.m. today, Dec. 20, called “Dark: An Interfaith Service for Those in Sorrow and Loss.”

“The song tells us that it is ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,’ and for many people it is just that, but for others, the holiday season brings up feelings of loss and grief that can leave people feeling out of place in a culture that is all about joy and celebration,” said Pastor Steve Hammer, who last year started his church’s new tradition to “address these very mixed emotions.” The selection of today for the service is no whim.

“Many congregations have a ‘Blue Christmas,’ also known as ‘Longest Night,’ because it falls on or near the Winter Solstice,” he explained. “We heard both from members of our own congregation and from people from the wider community that the service was, indeed, a helpful respite from the persistent messages of joy that sometimes made people feel at odds with the celebratory norm.”

Hammer is adding a new twist to this year’s service by making it ecumenical and by dividing it into four parts, signifying the four weeks of Advent that lead up to Christmas.

Noting that “such feelings of loss and grief are not experienced by Christians alone,” Hammer said each part “will feature poetry readings on loss and sadness, music and prayers from all three of the Abrahamic faiths.”

While two prayers will be offered by Esperanza Lutheran members who have experienced “significant losses” in the last two years, Rabbi Susan Schanerman of Ahwatukee will offer the Mourner’s Kaddish in Hebrew and Muhammed Zubair will bring prayers from the Islamic community.

“Worshippers will also have the opportunity to participate in the worship by lighting votive candles in memory of loved ones and by adding words or names to a white board that will be a physical remembrance,” Hammer said.

The service will be followed by a reception in Esperanza’s Fellowship Hall so that participants “can meet others and talk about their experiences of loss and the remembrance traditions of their families and communities of faith,” he said.

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