THE LONGEST NIGHT SERVICE OR BLUE CHRISTMAS
By Jim Taylor
Instructions for Longest Night Service
Longest Night Service
Instructions to the presider(s) and organizers.
Long before the service:
Please ensure that you have announced the special service in several
regular Sunday worship services. Explain a bit about the pain that this
season causes in some people, the way in which the constant refrain
of family, of gathering, of celebration, of giving, and affluence, of
happiness, can rub salt into the wounds that some people already bear.
A significant benefit of such a service is the learning that comes to
those who are not lonely, or poor, or in pain.
The actual longest night of this year is December 21, although of course,
it isn’t necessary to hold this service on that day.
Publicize the service in your regular Sunday bulletins and in your newsletter,
if you have one. Phone or write colleagues in chaplaincy or counseling
services, and send a notice to your local media outlets.
Consider sending personal invitations to persons you may know of for
whom Christmas is a difficult season. Your congregation may be of help
in identifying such persons. Suggest that they go to the service with
the person they invite.
The invitation might use all or part of the following sample invitation:
An Invitation. [ TOP ]
Christmas can be a painful time for some. It may be the first Christmas
without a loved family member who has recently died; it may be a time
that has always been difficult.
The constant refrain on the radio and television, in shopping malls
and churches, about the happiness of the season, about getting together
with family and friends, reminds many people of what they have lost
or have never had. The anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity
of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation
- all these can make us feel very alone in the midst of the celebrating
and spending. We need the space and time to acknowledge our sadness
and concern; we need to know that we are not alone.
Our spirits sink, as the days grow shorter. We feel the darkness growing
deeper around us. We need encouragement to live the days ahead of
For these reasons, (Name of Church) offers a special “Longest
Night” service on (Date) at (Time).
Come out, and join with us in sharing and hearing prayers, scripture,
and music that acknowledge that God’s presence is for those who
mourn, for those who struggle - and that God’s Word
comes to shine light into our darkness. Everyone, regardless of
(or lack of it) is welcome.
The short service will be followed by a brief time for light refreshments
Because there is always the possibility, in these services of someone
in the congregation being overcome by intense feelings, try to have
at least two persons available who have some skills in counseling
(not necessarily professionals) who can give distraught person(s)
ministry, if necessary.
Arrange for tea, coffee, juice, and other light refreshments as
appropriate, following the service. This time of informal companionship
If possible, encourage those present at it act in one of these ways,
as they choose:
- For families who have homes and incomes,
to invite someone else in for dinner, etc.
those without invitations, to form a group among themselves,
and arrange to go out
for dinner or some other
- In addition, the whole
congregation might choose to extend invitations
to a dinner in the
The Longest Night Service Instructions: [
The service has been designed to have three parts, with three different
levels of participation.
Part 1 has the least congregational participation. It recognizes
that many of those who attend such a service are ill at ease
church services. They may have opted out of the church for years.
They will be unfamiliar with the liturgy, and have been so hurt
experiences that they would withdraw from any process that asks
them to share their pain.
Therefore, the first part of the service allows them to be more
or less passive, with the presider carrying most of the leadership.
the lonely people consulted about this service said, “There are
times when I just want to sit in the back and absorb… I don’t
want a lot of up-down, up-down stuff!”)
Of course, there will also be many who have a strong affiliation
with the church, and who would be quite comfortable with the
traditional liturgy. But we strongly suggest that the service not
We suggest you take your time in leading the prayer of confession
and intercession. Do not rush through it. Provide plenty of
pauses, to allow
people to identify themselves with the words of the prayer.
After a pause for individual reflection, conclude with an assurance
of acceptance appropriate to your local congregation’s customs.
But please try to avoid implying in any way that their present pain
or misery is a consequence of their sin. This perpetuates the concept
of victim as sinner - a notion they don’t need. (That’s
why we refer to an “assurance of acceptance.”)
Part 2 shifts the mood towards more active involvement by the congregation.
As leader, you may want to preface this portion of the service
by explaining that the Scriptures present a picture. Although
have time to
read in any service is fragments of the Bible, those fragments
should, like small pieces in a larger jigsaw puzzle, reveal a
In this service, we recommend not having a conventional sermon.
Instead, we suggest a series of readings from the Bible, from
both the Hebrew
and the Christian scriptures, followed by:
a) A very brief commentary,
identifying a significant theme in that reading.
b) The lighting of a candle by a volunteer
from the congregation.
c) A brief prayer.
We suggest lighting candles because their light becomes a sign of
hope in this season of darkness. (If feasible, dim the lights
in the church
to accentuate the light form the candles.)
Following the reading, invite someone from the congregation to come
forward to light a candle from the central Christ candle.
This person does not need to say anything or to reveal anything
merely to light a candle. For the lighting, we suggest tapers.
Do not rush these volunteer candle lighters. Some may only volunteer
in considerable fear and trembling. Wait in silence for
someone to respond. If eventually, no one comes forward, light the
may have asked some of your regular members to respond if
no one else does.
We do not recommend using all of the readings offered. Four or five
is probably plenty. Choose the readings that best relate
to the concerns expressed by the congregation for this service.
to supplement with other passages that may be more appropriate
to the gathering.
Be sure to have the Christ candle lit, ready for use, and to have
enough additional candles on hand for lighting to accompany
the readings you
This portion of the service could be led by a single presider. It
could also be very effective with two presiders, taking
Part 3 tries to move as seamlessly as possible from hearing of the
word into enacting the word. The suggested order keeps words
of any kind
to a minimum. For that reason, it doesn’t include any specific
reading of scripture, nor a traditional “Great Thanksgiving” prayer.
Keeping that principle in mind, feel free to substitute
wordings more familiar to your own denominational tradition
for those shown. The words
shown are adapted form the Reformed/Methodist traditions.
Whatever your denominational tradition, though, you need
to decide how the elements
shall be served to the people. (The decision may be affected
by the number who attend the service, and may therefore
need to be amended
at the last minute!) Take into account local traditions.
But also consider what the actions of distributing the elements
communicate by themselves.
a) Elements served at the chancel or altar rail
involve a one-to-one relationship between the dispenser and the recipient.
But they also imply a power hierarchy: the presiders seem to “own” the
elements, dispensing them like charity to a lesser group
who may only touch them.
b) Elements served in the pews (or gathered around
the table) imply a greater equality among participants -
especially if the presiders come down from the chancel
and sit in the pews to receive
the elements with everyone else. Distributing the elements
in the pews also requires people to minister to each
c) If people consume the elements
as they are received, communion takes on a personal
and private (even exclusive)
relationship with God.
d) On the other hand, having people
wait to partake together may imply a false cohesiveness
We suggested distributing the elements in the pews, with the people
partaking of the elements at their own time. This recognizes
that the people attending this particular service do not
feel a unity;
there because they feel isolated and alone. We also
suggest that the presiders give the bread and wine to the servers
at the table,
come down to sit with the congregation to receive the
elements. If all participants are encouraged to say words such
as “The bread of
life” and “The true vine” while passing
the bread and wine/juice to each other, then the servers
may partake when they
receive the elements from the person on the end of a pew,
before passing the bread/wine on to the next pew.
Whatever you choose, explain the procedures clearly to the worshippers
present before you begin the communion, remembering
that many of them may not be familiar with your communion customs.
We strongly recommend
that the passing of the bread and wine should take place
silence, aside form the words of consecration spoken quietly
by each participant
passing the elements on. Do not cover up the emotions
of this time
with soothing music.
Because many may have outdated or mistaken ideas of who is permitted
to partake of a communion service or agape meal, we
urge you to invite everyone - as far as is possible within your denomination’s
policies. The people attending may have had enough experience
of feeling excluded already, without the church adding further exclusion.
cannot find some way of including them, perhaps you should
not have this service.)
At the conclusion of this portion of the service, before the benediction,
the presider should invite members to the informal period
of refreshments. If the congregation is going to sponsor a
Christmas dinner, or
if you want to encourage the worship participants to invite
for gatherings, this is the time to announce it.
The Longest Night Service - [ TOP ]
Call to worship:
Leader: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.
People: The Word became flesh and lived among us, full
of grace and truth, and we have
seen his glory.
Leader: In him was life, and that life was the light of all.
People: The light shines in the darkness, and
the darkness has never been able to extinguish it.
Words of explanation:
Welcome to this “Longest Night” service. “The name
comes from the season - during this season in December, we experience
the shortest day and the longest night of the year. But the name also
applies to the feeling that a number of us have about this season. It
is the “long dark night of the soul,” “the winter
of our discontent,” in which memories of past experiences
and the pain of present experiences can become overwhelming.
For some, Christmas Day is the most difficult. For others, Christmas
Eve, or New Year’s Eve, or the beginning of another
lonely New Year.
In this service, we will have some singing appropriate to the season,
recognizing that this is not necessarily a season
of joy. We will invite you to meditate on the pain and anguish
bring, and to offer
your pain to the Christ child. And we trust that
you will find
hope and comfort in knowing that you are not alone.
Let us begin our worship by singing familiar Christmas songs and
carols. Please listen to the poignancy of the words,
as you sing the verses.
Carol(s): O Little Town of Bethlehem (tune: St.. Louis; verses
Come, O Come Emmanuel
in a Manger
of Wintertime (Huron Carol)
Prayer of Confession and Intercession
God, we come to you on this Christmas season, with the pain growing
inside us. As the nights have been growing longer,
so has the darkness wrapped itself around our hearts.
In this season of our longest nights, we offer to you the pain in
our hearts, the traumas that some of us cannot put
God, we come to you as those who have been abused. We have been
hurt, physically, emotionally, sexually. As
children, as teenagers, as adults,
we have had the trust we gave others violated.
We have no confidence in ourselves; we cringe away from any threat. God, we are the
outsiders. We are the ones who seem to stand on the edges of any group.
We find ourselves always looking in over someone else’s
shoulders, and when we try to move to the center,
we feel as if we are getting
elbowed out of the way.
God, we are the minorities. We come from all over the world. We
are newcomers and immigrants, strangers in a foreign
land. And we are
the original peoples, who extended hosp8tality to
the newcomers, and found
ourselves caged in reservations. We struggle to
discover our dignity among alien customs, among values that are
God, we are grieving over what might have been. A death or a loss
has changed this day. Once it was a special day
for us too. But someone has died. Someone has let us. Someone has
moved away. We have lost
job. We have lost a dream, a goal, a cause. WE find
adrift, alone, lost in a terrifying new world. This
season reminds us of
all that used to be, and cannot be any more.
God, we are the victims. From this temporary period of peace, we
will go back to situations where we are beaten,
exploited, humiliated. We would escape if we could - but
to what? We are as afraid of the future as of the present.
The memories of what was, the fears of what may be, stifle us. All
around us we hear the sounds of celebration,
the jingle of cash registers, the rustle of wrapping paper. But
of us have
nothing we can give,
and some of us have no one to give anything
is our longest night, Lord. Please be near us tonight. We
ask it in Jesus’ name.
Pause for individual reflection
Assurance of acceptance by God:
Carol: In the Bleak Midwinter (verses 1-2 only)
Hearing the Word of God for our time, our place.
Suggested readings: choose four or five.
Reading: Matthew 22:1-10 or Luke 14:15-24 (the Wedding Feast, in
which all the outsiders were gathered in)
Comment: This story offers hope for those who
have no one to invite them in. It reminds us that
order, no one is excluded; all are invited.
Invitation: Would one of you, perhaps someone who finds this reading
relevant to your own situation, come forward to
light a candle?
Prayer after lighting candle: Lord our God, may your fellowship
be available to all, including those who feel
Reading: Luke 2:1-7 (Bethlehem, where there was no room for them
Comment: Jesus himself was no stranger to being
a stranger, an outsider, a refugee.
Invitation to light candle:
Prayer after lighting candle: Lord Jesus, let those who are far
those who are strangers, feel that they genuinely
belong in your company.
Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-3a, 8-15a (Elijah flees for his life, alone,
Comment: Sometimes it is only in isolation that
we can hear the still
small voice through which God speaks to us.
Invitation to light candle:
Prayer after lighting candle: Spirit of God, calm the turmoil in
so that we can hear your still small voice. Amen.
Reading: Luke 6:17-23 (The Beatitudes, Blessed are those who weep,
they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst, etc.)
Comment: This familiar passage reveals that
Jesus was well aware of people's sorrows,
yearnings, and suffering--and offered a promise
of something different.
Invitation to light candle:
Prayer after lighting candle: Lord Jesus, like this candle, bring
warmth and light to those who mourn, who hunger
and thirst, and who weep.
Reading: Matthew 8:14-22 or Luke 9:57-62 (Foxes have
holes, and birds have
nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere...)
Comment: In his own life, Jesus shared the experience
of having no place to call home, no family, no security.
Invitation to light candle:
Prayer after lighting candle: Lord Jesus, you know what it's
like to be rootless. Give each of us a way of putting
down roots where we
can grow. Amen.
Reading: Matthew 2:9-18 (The massacre of the
Comment: Anniversaries and special events are not always happy times.
For the people in Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus
would always remind them of the army that massacred their children.
Invitation to light candle:
Prayer after lighting candle: Dear God, you suffered when your child
died. In your compassion, ease our suffering.
Reading: Psalm 22:1-11 (My God, my God...)
Comment: Even Jesus knew the feeling of being abandoned by God,
the God whom he had believed in, and of being
left alone in his darkness.
Invitation to light candle:
Prayer after lighting candle: Spirit of God, shine like this candle
in the darkness, lighting the way for all who
feel abandoned, forsaken, and forgotten. Amen.
Reading: Matthew 11:28-29 (Weary and burdened receive rest)
Comment: When burdens get piled on top of other burdens, the load
can crush us. In his promise, Jesus offers us
help to carry our burdens and responsibilities.
Invitation to light candle:
Prayer after lighting candle: Friend Jesus, we don't ask you to
shoulder our burdens for us--just help us carry
a corner of them, and we can
carry on. Amen.
Reading: Revelation 7:15-17 or 21:1-7 (A new heaven, a new earth)
Comment: Our present world is not how God wants things to be.
Those who weep now will not weep later. In this new
heaven and new earth, there will be no more need for tears.)
Invitation to light candle:
Prayer after lighting candle: Lord God, your vision seems a long
way in the future. Bring your promise closer to
us, we pray. Amen.
The Body of Christ.
Processing with the offering, following immediately by the communion
Offertory carol: In the Bleak Midwinter (verses 3-4)
Invitation to participate:
Leader: I invite all who profess Jesus
as Lord and Savior and who seek to follow in his way and to live in
one another, to come
to this tale with reverence and with faith.
Eat and drink for your strengthening, that you may grow in grace and
remembering that we, though
many, are one body in Jesus Christ.
Leader: Peace be with you.
People: And also with you.
Leader: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Leader: Lord God, we set before you this holy
supper, following the command of Jesus, who, the night in which he was
betrayed, took bread and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to his
disciples, saying: “Take, eat, this is my body, broken for you.” And
on the same night, in the same way, he took a cup, and raised it, and
poured it out for his disciples to drink, saying, “Drink
of this cup, all of you. This is the new
covenant, in my blood poured our for
Leader and people: In union with each other and with our Lord Jesus
Christ , who gave himself for us and for
the world, and in communion with the whole church, we offer ourselves
Leader: And now, as Jesus taught us, we say:
All: Our father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
for thine is the kingdom, and
power, and the glory
for ever and ever. Amen.
The minister takes the bread and breaks it, saying
The body of Christ, broken for you.
The minister raises the cup, saying
The blood of Christ, shed for you.
Distribution of the elements
Prayer after communion:
All: For the bread we have eaten
for the wine we have tasted
for the life we have received
we thank you, God.
Grant that what we have done
and have been given here
may put its mark upon us
and remain in our hearts,
so that we may mature as followers of Christ,
and may reveal our faith in our actions,
through Christ our Lord and our companion in life.
Go Tell it on the Mountain (a spiritual, sung by people who knew
oppression and suffering)
Stay with us through the Night (from All
Come Though Long-expected Jesus
Announcement: about post-worship gathering, if applicable.
Leader: The life our Lord Jesus Christ, who lived and suffered and
died for the sake of all suffering and
hurting humans, yesterday, today,
and tomorrow; the peace of God, which
passes all understanding; and the presence of God’s Holy
Spirit supporting and encouraging you, be with you through this
Carol: Silent Night (while remaining seated)