South Charlotte

Church helps with grief

For people who are grieving, the Christmas season can be unbearable.

Traditions remind them of lost loved ones.

Harrison United Methodist Church Associate Pastor Gayle Montgomery observed the impact of loss during the holidays several years ago when her sister's husband died.

"Probably in mid-November, (my sister) said, 'Gayle, I just wish I could go to sleep at Thanksgiving and wake up after New Years,'" Montgomery said

Montgomery thought about her sister's situation and realized the story of Christmas was a message of hope. She designed a Christmas service where people could acknowledge their grief and focus on the meaning of the biblical Christmas message.

"The whole Christmas story is Jesus came to heal our brokenness,"

Montgomery said recently. "It's there where we can find hope for the future."

The service, called "A Quiet Christmas," has become a favorite among the staff at Harrison UMC. This year it will be 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at the church.

The lights are lowered in the sanctuary and the only Christmas song the congregation sings is "In the Bleak Midwinter." Other songs are accompanied by an acoustic guitar and vocalists.

Montgomery and other church leaders talk to the congregation about grief, using biblical passages to show God cares about people who are mourning.

The most poignant part of the service comes when the pastors invite people in the congregation to stand up and say aloud the loss, whether it be a person, a job, a dream or a treasured relationship.

Some speak the name loudly, some so quietly it can hardly be heard.

Others are so emotional that they stand up but cannot speak, Montgomery said. As they stand up, a candle is lit at the alter.

"There are always a lot of tears," Montgomery said. "It is a very tender, moving service."

Pastors talk about the candles as symbols of light that came into the world as Jesus Christ did. They bless the memories of people who have died and "acknowledge the loss and the grief, even as we acknowledge that life goes on."

At the end of the service, congregants are given another candle, which they can light from the candles at the altar to symbolize the "light of their loved one" is still with them as they begin the holiday season.

"We give them permission to do Christmas differently this year," Montgomery said. "If it's difficult to put up a tree, don't put up a tree. Be gentle themselves and realize Christmas doesn't have to look and be like what it was."

Congregants often linger at the altar after church, finding camaraderie with others who are grieving.

"We find that year after year, they never want to leave," Montgomery said. "It's just this sweet and sacred moment."