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

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,516 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

Central zone has 1,849 active cases

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It’s not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he’d been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

Police are still looking for suspects, and have called in their forensics experts to help

Stettler resident Jaden Norman is pictured here outside of the Stettler Learning Centre where she lends a helping hand as a volunteer tutor. photo contributed
Stettler’s Jaden Norman has discovered the many joys of giving back

National Volunteer Week runs April 18th to 24th

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

Most Read