Bay Area church offers solace to those grieving during holidays
Last year’s holiday season was melancholy for Amy Tones. In the space of two months, the Bay Area resident lost two close high school friends, and in the midst of all the holiday merriment, their unexpected deaths added a somber tone to her Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.
“I’m 53 years old, and you don’t expect to start losing your friends at that point,” she said. “They passed away in October and November and so it was still very clear in my mind. I was enjoying myself with my family, but there was a shadow.”
Tones, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Nassau Bay, found solace in her church’s Longest Night Service, an annual event held the week before Christmas Day.
WANT TO GO?
What: Longest Night Service
When: 4:00 – 5:00 p.m.. Dec. 17
Where: St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, 18300 Upper Bay Road.
Led by the Rev. Mike Stone, the service is an open invitation for those in the community whose holiday season is marred by grief or loneliness to mourn, and hopefully, find something healing.
“The service was a way for me to reflect on the loss,” said Tones.
Other congregations and faiths have similar services, and it’s an event that can mean different things at different times in life, said Stone.
“I first heard about this kind of service when I was in the seminary, but it didn’t mean much to me then because I was 24 years old,” he said. “Initially I didn’t think it was for me, but as I was around people more and more, I felt like the need was there. I also find that the need in myself grows every year.”
As a spiritual leader of the congregation, Stone ministers to all the emotional notes of his congregation – high and low. The Longest Service, he said, releases something in all its participants.
“I believe in it,” he said, “because oddly enough, doing the service and being there, gives voice sometimes to grief I didn’t know I had because I felt I wasn’t allowed to have it.”
The service is a reminder, said Stone, that Christmas can be a lonely experience when one is experiencing a crisis, whether it is the loss of a loved one, or the worry over an illness of a loved one, or a young person or adult dealing with a bout of emotional turmoil.
“Life is complicated,” said Stone. “For me, I am going to have a Sunday morning church service that same morning of the Longest Night service; and the next week will be Christmas and that’s going to be full of hope and excitement. I think life is full of both things ‑ celebration and mourning.”
The Longest Night Service seems to take its spiritual cue from the verses of Ecclesiastes, which declares that there is ‘a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance …’
“Grief that doesn’t get recognized as grief can fester instead of scarring, because scarring is a sign of healing,” said Stone.
The service, which ties into the Advent season of reflection in the church, will be conducted on a loose structure of music, prayer and candle-lighting services, offering participants the option to find comfort in a group setting or in solitude.
“I think it’s very important to remember that there are people who are grieving, and acknowledging that it’s OK if you don’t feel like participating in the wild, crazy things during the holidays,” said Tones. “This is quiet service, and it allows you to sit and think and to reflect.”
That reflection is a vital component to grieving, Tones said.
“Whether that loss was yesterday or ten years ago, it can still hit you at different times,” she said. “This service gives you that closure if you want it, but you don’t have to close it. Even though people are gone, they’re still part of our lives. Some people say that the grieving process should be done in this or that amount of time. But that’s not the way it works. It can be 20 years later, and it can strike you, and that’s the way it works with memory. That’s why having this service every year is a valuable thing.”
The Longest Night Service will be held Dec. 17, 4:00 – 5:00 p.m.. at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church located at 18300 Upper Bay Road.
For more information, go to www.sttaec.org