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

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Businesses are getting creative to keep cash flowing. (File photo)
Central Albertan lobbying government to help those affected by CERB repayments

Catherine Hay says she received a letter in November saying she had to completely repay the benefit

The newly built Parkland Regional Library Services. (Photo Submitted)
Parkland Regional Library system moves into new offices in Lacombe

“Someone with a Parkland Library card can borrow from 350 libraries in Alberta,” Ron Sheppard

The Mountain Cree Traditional Band headquarters in Mirror, Alta. has been the target of theft and vandalism. (Photo submitted)
Mountain Cree Traditional Band’s headquarters broken into five times

AWNTB says not enough been done to deter crime in Mirror, Alta.

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19.  (File photo)
750 new COVID-19 cases identified in Alberta Sunday

Central zone currently has 1,182 active cases of the virus

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
No Pfizer vaccines arriving in Canada next week; feds still expect 4M doses by end of March

More cases of U.K. variant, South African variant found in Canada

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians who have had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, experts say

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were found to have a 95 per cent efficacy

An empty Peel and Sainte-Catherine street is shown in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

The poll suggests 59 per cent remain somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19

Lacombe is looking at its options for reclaiming sewage lagoons that are no longer needed. Vesta Energy Ltd. has signed a deal to use three lagoons to store water for fracking.
Map from City of Lacombe
Energy company to use former Lacombe sewage lagoons to store water for fracking

Vesta Energy Ltd. will pay Lacombe more than $100,000 a year in 20-year deal

Most Read