Bethel’s Blue Christmas3 min read

While the holiday season is “supposed” to be happy and jolly, often it is not because we are missing someone dear to us. The first Christmas after a loved one has passed away is very difficult. It is especially hard to go to a Christmas service at your church without that loved one sitting next to you.

Bethel, Grandville designed a service to help people as they struggle through the holidays due to the loss of a loved one or just not being able to feel that “holiday joy.”

The Blue Christmas service was promoted in many ways, including Facebook, our church’s website, posters in local restaurants, other churches sending out emails to their members, funeral homes publicizing through their grief counselors and websites, and posters for the police, fire, and public works departments. In addition, Bethel worked with the Widowed Persons Service of Grand Rapids to promote the service among their members.

The service was put together by Rev. Robert Gerke, who has had extensive training in working with grieving people. Bethel had never tried anything like this before, so the question was, could a small church pull this off and bring comfort to grieving people during difficult times?

There were questions that needed to be answered, including: would anyone even come to this type of service and, if they did come, would the service be comforting to them?

On December 19, 2018 Bethel’s first Blue Christmas was held. The church had been decorated for Christmas and organ and piano music filled the air. The stage was set, but the questions still needed to be answered.

Twenty-seven people came to the service, of which five had never been to Bethel before. The service lasted about an hour. No offering was taken, and comfort was in large supply, with Pastor staying at the altar afterwards for anyone who wanted a special private prayer of comfort. A reception was held after the service in our fellowship hall.

Some remarkable things happened at that service. One young lady in her early 20’s started crying during the service and it touched the heart of one of the people that came to the service so much that she prayed for that young lady.

The most unbelievable event occurred between two non-members of our congregation. One widow had flown in from Virginia and was attending the service with her daughter and her family. Another widow had flown to Grand Rapids from Illinois to be with her son over the holiday. They sat across the aisle from each other, unaware of each other. As the service went on, one of them recognized the other. It turned out that the younger one had been the flower girl at the other’s wedding 60 years ago. Coincidence or did God put these two people together so unexpectedly?

In talking to the five people that had never been to Bethel before, they felt the service was comforting to them. Amanda Oppenhuizen, the executive director of Widowed Persons Service, attended to see what the service was like and felt that this was a wonderful service that would be a great help to her members. She indicated a willingness to strongly promote it next time.

Bethel did get answers to our two main questions: people will come to this type of service, and it was comforting to the ones who joined us for Blue Christmas. We know we make Christmas a little easier, so we will have a Blue Christmas service again this year, on Wednesday, December 18 at 6:30 p.m. Join us!

Photo courtesy of Elisa Schulz Photography



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About the Author

Richard Salzwedel is the President of Grand General Insurance Agency. He has served in many positions at various Lutheran churches and is presently the Chairman of Bethel, Grandville.

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Linda Gerke - December 7, 2019

Great job, Dick, on presenting this ministry.