(Photo: AP Images / Chris Schneider, Pool)
It's a blue Christmas for many who find themselves without loved ones.
Although surrounded by a spirit of togetherness and holiday cheer as millions celebrate the birth of Christ, some struggle to find the joy as they grieve the loss of family members.
Many churches are responding by opening their doors not only to the thousands of churchgoers and Easter/Christmas crowds but also to the grieving with special "Blue Christmas" services this weekend.
At Mariner's Bethel United Methodist Church in Ocean View, Del., Blue Christmas service attendants won't be singing the traditional celebratory hymns or hearing the traditional sermons about the birth of Christ. They will instead seek peace as they remember their deceased loved ones.
"People who come aren't celebrating, just reflecting," said Kay Lanasa, pastor of the Ocean View church, according to The Daily Times. "[The service] gives people a place where they can just be, and rest in a quiet place for their souls."
Nancy Piel, who lost her parents more than 10 years ago and her nephew this year, says it's okay not to feel jolly during Christmas. Every year, she falls into a "funk" of reliving the tragedies. She said she wants to share the strength God has given her and seek guidance.
The church will hold a Blue Christmas ecumenical remembrance service Sunday evening. The service is open to the community.
This year's tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb., Youth With a Mission center in Arvada, Colo., and New Life Church in Colorado Springs, in particular, have devastated many families, friends and communities. But many have turned to the church for comfort and guidance.
"I think there is far more suffering during the holidays than we are aware of , and if the service provides even a brief respite to a few, I'll be very happy," said Scott Hagler, minister of music at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Durango, Colo., according to Episcopal News Service.
Hagler has offered Blue Christmas services in the past in Denver and held his first at St. Mark's Friday night.
"I think the main thing I kept in mind as I was doing research and designing the service was that I wanted to begin with the acknowledgment of pain and loss, and by the end of the service offer some sense of relief, hope or uplifting," Hagler said. "We'll offer opportunities for worshipers to light candles, sing, pray, and to meditate."
For the Rev. Deacon Richard Spencer of Trinity Church in Ossining, N.Y., Blue Christmas services are about "bringing the light of Christ into the darkness of their lives," he said, according to Episcopal News Service.
The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chatham, N.J., said Blue Christmas services should be simple because "grief is very complex."
"Just let the service be and let the people take out of it what they will," Kaeton advised, according to the Episcopal News Service.
While Blue Christmas service crowds can be small, Kaeton tells church leaders not to be disappointed by the turnout but instead know that "the really powerful message" that the church cares does come through.