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Comfort in the darkness

‘Longest Night’ service at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church helps people cope with pain that can come with the holidays

BRATTLEBORO—The holiday season isn’t joyous for everyone.

For those dealing with grief, loss, pain, loneliness, depression, or any other burden that makes it difficult to get through the holiday season, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be emotionally excruciating.

That’s why St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Putney Road will be hosting the Longest Night service, on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 4 p.m.

This will be the third year of the service, according to Devin Starlanyl, a lay minister at St. Michael’s. She said it is designed to be nondenominational and inclusive, and all are welcome to attend.

“People of non-Christian faiths — or no religious affiliation — may also be having a tough time during the rather overwhelming celebrations of holidays that are no part of their belief system,” Starlanyl said. “And this year, there may also be many who are struggling with grief due to the results of the election, and all that has come after.”

Starlanyl said the presidential election has especially cast a pall over what is already a bleak season for people dealing with grief and loss.

“I was stunned and nonverbal for days,” she said. “Each day seems worse than the one that came before, and a lot of people are feeling that we’ve lost something as a nation.”

However, there are many forms of grief and pain, she said: “Just dealing with the daily grind of life, or dealing with all kinds of losses from jobs to relationships, or just the feeling of the loss of hope and optimism.”

That’s why she began this service in Brattleboro, she said.

Starlanyl said she saw a news item four years ago that a church in Jaffrey, N.H., was hosting a “longest night” service, and wanted to do something similar at St. Michael’s.

“I feel it is necessary to acknowledge and offer validation for the people who feel isolated and excluded during the holidays,” she said. “There’s so much healing that is needed.”

The service is nondenominational, she said, so that people of all faiths, or no faith, could feel included.

“This is not a Christmas service,” Starlanyl said. “There is one song and a few chants, and the words to those have been written especially for our service. The focus is that the light always follows the darkest night.”

She said the service “is still a work in progress. Each year, it has grown, and each year, more have found comfort.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #387 (Wednesday, December 14, 2016). This story appeared on page C1.

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