Stepping from darkness

Dave Mathieson
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‘Hard to be Merry’ service offers connection to those looking for hope

Stones symbolize pain and candles the hope and joy in a sometimes dark world. Hard to be Merry service participants gathered Sunday at Trinity-St. Stephen United Church in Amherst.

AMHERST – Joy at Christmastime is not guaranteed.

For many, the holiday season brings feelings of loss or sorrow, and reminders of loneliness or misfortune.

But for some of those people, there can be at least a brief refuge.

“They sometimes call it the Longest Night service because it’s a winter solstice meeting,” Rev. Susan Estabrooks said. “The days start to get longer and we talk of the coming of the light.”

Estabrooks is minister of Amherst’s Trinity-St. Stephens United Church, where the ‘Hard to be Merry’ service has been held for about 15 years.

Participants of the special service at the downtown church receive stones to symbolize their suffering.

“We went around and put our pain on the table, and we heard of people who were having pain and suffering,” Estabrooks said. “We then turned to how we can try to find hope in the midst of that pain.”

They try to use that pain to gain a brighter outlook at the days ahead.

“The candles represent the thankfulness we have for community, the thankfulness we have for faith, and the thankfulness for other people who helped us and shared with us.”

Estabrooks said the meeting can resonate with anyone who is unemployed or struggling with abusive relationships, and those who find themselves alone.

“The loss could be a death or somebody might be away,” she said. “There might be an empty seat at the table this Christmas..."


Organizations: Stephens United Church

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