Distant country house surrounded by woods and snow.

Blue Christmas: Pain has a Place

Written by Victoria Nuñez

“For all that we carry in our hearts, sorrow we fear may never end, and wounds we cannot even put into words.”

– from the brochure for the Blue Christmas Service.

As people arrange themselves sparsely across the pews inside the quiet, warmly lit church, Father Adam Rick and Brock Lutz, the director of health services as well as a clinical counselor, welcome people just walking in. I slide into a pew in the back, hoping to observe from a comfortable distance, yet realizing I am drawn in to partake in the service as well. The pianist starts playing the beginning lines of “Be Still My Soul” as candles flicker in the front of the church and attendees rise to sing. As the acoustic strains of music fill the church, I mentally mark this place as one of peace in the midst of a chaotic season. The vision behind the service is a deep acknowledgement of the challenges of those who experience brokenness most piercingly during the holiday season.

Gabe Listro, ’20, a member of the prayer team at Blue Christmas, explains the situation many of us find ourselves in during the holiday season: “Christmas is a bitter time for lots of people and especially for the students who now, after months of community with close friends, have to return home to a broken and bitter reality: late nights of listening to parents arguing, an empty chair around the dinner table, or being surrounded by old temptations and friends which they had escaped while away at school.” This is a fact of humanity, and one that the college does not ignore. College Chaplain Father Rick adds, “For that reason, it’s a documented reality that depression and suicidality increases during the holiday season. Blue Christmas is a worship service designed to help such folks find a place for themselves during a season which, on its face, has little to do with the grief they are feeling.”

Blue Christmas is a service that honors the pain of the past and provides a space for students to honor their story in light of the Christmas story. It all started in 2016 as a joint effort between Father Adam and Brock Lutz.

“He and I had both heard of the service before, but neither one of us had ever tried it,” Father Adam says. A variety of different church traditions are represented at the service, which is, according to Father Adam, “designed to help such folks find a place for themselves during a season which, on its face, has little to do with the grief they are feeling. We know that we have students who experience this tension at Christmas time, and there are even some who don’t want to go home over the winter break at all. Brock and I wanted to help such people.”

The service is organized in a format that encourages reflection and response from the congregation. Near the end of the service, there is a time for remembrance and reflection for the pain of loss, one’s own suffering, and one’s faith in God. The service includes lessons from Scripture and prayers for those who grieve, as well as a part of the service specifically for people to honor their grief by lighting a candle.

The Blue Christmas service also provides an opportunity for students with a heart for ministry to reach out and care for others. Lily Erickson, ’21, talks about her experience: “I was first connected to the Blue Christmas service my freshman year when I attended the service for myself. For me, the service was a time to acknowledge and begin to heal from the hurts I had experienced.” Involved with InterVarsity Prayer Team, Lily would go on to organize a group of fellow students passionate about helping others through prayer to be available during and after the service. Listro adds, “The Blue Christmas service provides a place for Hillsdale students where we can turn from a place of brokenness and seek the joy which was made manifest to us by a small child who laid in a manger two thousand years ago.”

The Christmas service made me stop and examine the state of my own heart toward this season of merriment, when suffering shades even the most joyous of occasions. I realized that pain has a place inside of it all—a place worthy of honor.

Victoria NuñezVictoria Nuñez, ’22, has a deep love for connecting people to people and is always up for an adventure. She writes because she has to, but she enjoys it more than she lets on. In her free time, you can catch her laughing, dancing, or people watching.

Published in June 2019