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"Blue" Christmas resources ~ Helping people deal with loss and despair, stress and anxiety this Advent 2020

Welcome to this important topic starter in Rotation.org's Advent 2020 Forum. Replies welcome.

Blue-Christmas-landscape

In addition to being a season of celebration, especially this year Advent 2020 will be a season of "pastoral concern" for many reasons both old and new:

  • Grieving the death of family members and feeling that loss more deeply at Christmas
  • Dealing with brokenness and financial hardship, something many are feeling this year
  • Loss of traditional activities and community events due to pandemic concerns
  • Isolation due to health concerns and fear
  • Pent-up frustrations from the pandemic and the election year (and results)
  • Stress and anxiety ratcheted up by worry and uncertainty

Christmas is a season when we traditionally "think on the past," and this year the line between "nostalgia and lament" will be thinner than most.

Traditionally, churches have responded to Advent's pastoral needs by inviting members to events and celebrations and evoking fond memories and comforting stories. In 2020, however, many of our "traditions" and usual expectations are being revised by social-distancing, and some even canceled, which opens the door to stress and despair even wider for those prone to it, or already experiencing it, and perhaps some for whom this will be their first year dealing with it.

One of the things I learned as a young minister was that not everyone was coming to Christmas Eve services with a celebratory mindset. Many were stressed out for various reasons past and present. For some, it was a trigger for or release from pain and loss, a reminder of "who wasn't with them." I was caught up in all the details of leading one year until I noticed a young adult man sobbing after the midnight service. He said, "my dad isn't here," and I immediately assumed he meant dead. "No, I mean he's home drunk like every Christmas Eve and he promised he would come for mom." His mother, a member from years ago had passed away.  It was then that I realized our Christmas Eve services needed to include a message of coping and hoping, forgiveness and comfort —and not just "lessons and carols."

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.


Suggestions

1. Share that mourning and anxiety are normal, even spiritual -- and realize that YOU may be the "comforter" Jesus was talking about.

2. Sensitize others to the subject, members, staff and volunteer leaders, asking them to "be on the lookout" for those in need, and giving them resources to respond.

3. Identify those who "check" many of the boxes this year for despair, and make a plan to personally stay in touch with them and invite them to get involved (or at least know you care).

4. Make sure your "in-church" celebrations are available to those who cannot be there in person. 

5. Create and promote meaningful "alternative" forms of celebrating Advent, such as "at-home" rituals and devotions, and speak to "loss" and anxiety at gathered services.

6. Start a Zoom Bible study and discussion group for those who have extra needs this Advent.

7. Invite members-in-need to have Christmas dinner with you or join in an at-home celebration with you.

8. Not all people in need this Advent will be older or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Christmas time can be especially challenging for single young adults far from home, those in the LGBTQ community, first-responders, the poor or out-of-work, and military families. 

9. Make sure your Advent message focuses on Hope that "overcomes" -- even "rejoices" in suffering (Rom 5:3-5), and that your message isn't just nostalgic. Coping + Hoping this year especially.

10. {Your suggestions here!}

More ideas to come in other posts.

What's your best idea for helping yourself or others keep despair or anxiety from having the last word this Advent?



A Few Resources:



Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister specializing in Christian education. He is the Lead Writer at Rotation.org. Your comments and suggestions are welcome!

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