In the midst of all of the caroling, Christmas decorations, gift-giving and holiday spirit, there are those that are struggling. Christmas doesn’t mean a happy time for everyone, and at Wellesley Mennonite Church, members want to acknowledge those hardships with the Longest Night service.
On the longest night of the year, Dec. 21, when the sun dips below the horizon at 4:48 p.m. and stays there until sunrise at 7:52 a.m. the next morning, pastor Kara Carter is inviting the community to come and reflect on loss, with a focus on healing.
“For many people, Christmas can be a really hard time, certainly for those that are experiencing the loss of a loved one. For many people, it is a time of deep loneliness,” she said. “Many of us are reminded, by the very nature of the Christmas season, of those that are absent from our family circles. I am also thinking of those from whom we are separated because of various circumstances. We are acutely aware of the chaos in our world, so we come together.”
Carter says that one of the first priorities of the Monday evening service is to bring the pain that can come with the holidays to the forefront, when it is usually pushed aside in our busy lives.
“That is the biggest piece, to realize that we are not alone. But also, this paradox of when we are attentive to our pain, and when we really enter into its raw and ragged edges, somehow, in the midst of that, there is healing that happens,” she shared. “We are always setting it aside, especially in our culture of busyness. That grief or pain, it just waits for us, or it comes out in different ways. When we attend to our grief and those places of pain in our lives, there is healing.”
The longest night of the year, or the winter solstice, also hold special significance, and that is why the church schedules the service on that evening. It symbolizes an end to something dark, and a new beginning.
“For those who nighttime means heightened loneliness and fear, it is the most dreaded night – the night when hope is most needed,” she said. “It is the season when we are longing for the light to burst through. It is the promise that light is coming. After the longest night, the days are getting brighter again and we live in that cycle of loss and new life. It doesn’t have to define us. Light will come again.”
To help bring that light forward, Carter, along with her associate and community pastors, will be lighting symbolic candles during the service, representing the different kinds of pain individuals can take on during the holiday season.
“We light the first candle in memory of the people we have lost through death, we remember them by name, in our hearts, or out loud. Then we light another one asking for deliverance from pain and loss and all the losses that we face that bring sadness and darkness into our lives at this time of year. It could be the loss of relationship, the loss of health, job, financial security,” she said. “We light a third candle for ourselves, offering up to God our past, regrets, and sorrow, times of mourning and difficult memories. We light the fourth candle as a symbol of promise and comfort and hope.”
Those attending the service are also invited to light a tea light candle to recognize their own individual struggles and burdens.
“It is a quiet evening of reflection and being attentive to those things that stir within us this time of year, that we tend to spend not a lot of time paying attentions to,” she said. “When we slow down and it’s quiet, [the pain] is there and the healing happens.”
The service begins at 7 p.m. on the evening of Dec. 21, and will take place at the Wellesley Mennonite Church at Gerber Road and David Street in Wellesley.