By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
There are bells, elves and toys - it's Christmas.
'But it's OK to feel something other than off-the wall joy,' said the Rev. Philip Shuler.
That was his message at the Blue Christmas service on Dec. 16 at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Temple.
Good and bad, life happens - and it doesn't stop when the carols start.
'People die, and their loved ones mourn,' Shuler said. 'Jobs are lost, money is needed and children are away from home.'
So in anger, grief and frustration, there are reasons not to deck the halls.
'But you have to let it out,' Shuler said. 'Otherwise it will constantly nag at you.'
The St. Paul blue service is the only one of its kind in Bell County, Shuler said. And the ceremony of scripture reading, hymn singing and silent candle lighting is an opportunity to release stress. 'Silence makes us uncomfortable,' Shuler said, explaining the significance of the ceremony. 'So we try to fill those empty moments with noise, but in the Bible, God said, 'Be still and know that I'm God.''
At the beginning of the ceremony, a single candle flickered. Its flame, the pastor said, represents the light of the Lord.
A stack of smaller candles laid beside it.
'Come and light your candle from God's presence,' Shuler said. 'And His light will illuminate the darkness of your pain. And later, when we put out our lights and leave, God's light will continue to burn and stay with us - God's hope stays with us.'
After a minute of silent prayer, everyone rose to light a candle. Heads bowed as each person took his turn. And in a few minutes, there was a wreath of light at the altar - dozens of tiny flames dancing around the large center candle.
'It's a lovely, peaceful service,' said Dorothy Griffiths of Temple. 'It brings back memories, happy and sad.'
She lit her candle in honor of her family.
'All of them are gone,' Ms. Griffiths said. 'So, as a Christian, I try to take this time and dwell on the happiness.'
JoAnn Smith of Temple attended the service for a different reason.
'This time of year gets get so busy,' Mrs. Smith said. 'This service, it's just a good time to stop and reflect.'
She lit the candle in honor of her sister.
'She broke her arm last week,' Mrs. Smith said. 'And it's been hard on her.'
The chance to worship brough Hugh Smith to the blue service.
'Anytime to come and worship is a time of joy, especially in the Christmas season,' Smith said.
He's content with his life but he knows there's hundreds aren't.
'It's important for us to think about thousands and millions of people who do have a reason to be blue,' Smith said. 'Whether it's because of death, loss of future, loss of love, loss of job or the rotten economy. I'm here to pray on their behalf.'
The Coffey sisters, Gail Gallon of Maryland and Anita Coffey of Temple, came to the blue service to mourn the absence of their parents.
'They aren't here,' Ms. Coffey said. 'And it hurts.'
Their mother died two years ago, and their father died this past March.
'It was awful,' Ms. Gallon said. 'I was living in Maryland, taking care of Dad, and he and my Rotweiler were diagnosed with cancer at the same time.'
Ms. Gallon's pet preceded her father in death by two months.
'It was one loss after another,' Ms. Gallon said. 'It might seem goofy that I came to devote some time to the memory of my dog, but she was more than a dog. She was my girl, part of my family.'
The teary-eyed Ms. Coffey agreed.
'There's been so much loss,' Ms. Coffey said. 'Lighting these candles, it lets us remember that God's light is still in us and that through God, our parents are still with us. It's our reminder to let go, go out and let our lights shine.'
Comments like these are music to Shuler's ears.
'It's healing, and it's incredible,' Shuler said.
For Ms. Gallon, blue is the color for healing.
'In my physical therapy, I close my eyes and see colors from all the plain,' Ms. Gallon said. First it's black and as the pain disipates, there's red and orange and then yellow and green. And when that fades, there's a beautiful blue. When the blue comes, that's when I know the pain is gone. I'm healed physically. My body is at peace. The blue service, it does the same sort of thing spiritually.'