Holiday grief subject of service at historic Charleston church

On the longest night of the year, a pianist playing "Come All Ye Faithful" in a melancholy, minor key set the tone Saturday at the Circular Congregational Church first holiday service for the grieving.

The event affirmed and comforted those for whom the joy of the season stands in stark contrast to the sadness they feel because of the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship or illness.

"The holidays just don't feel like they once did and we are blue," said Rev. Jeremy Rutledge.

The service at the historic Meeting Street church was a show of solidarity with those who feel like outsiders during the festive time of year because of their emotional state, he said.

"You can pass the tissue and you can cry and you don't have to be all put together," Rutledge said.

The event included carols, the lighting of Advent candles, readings from the Bible, poetry and prose.

Jesus' promise of blessings for those who are poor, hungry and weep were recited. "These are our sacred stories," he said.

Rutledge read a passage about grief from "Stitches" by Anne Lamott. "At some point the better of two choices is to get back up on your feet again," he said.

Many of those in attendance came forward to light a candle as a symbol of hope.

Sarah Rutledge, wife of Jeremy Rutledge, said the church experienced a lot of deaths in 2013, including young parents.

"You just know there's some heaviness in the community," she said.

As the service concluded, the flames of more than a dozen candles flickered at the front of the church as 20 or so people sang "Silent Night."

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711

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