The service provides peace to those struggling this holiday season who aren’t experiencing the same joy and celebration as others.
For those dealing with grief, illness, anxiety or depression this Christmas season, Pastor Anna Gillette of Marlton United Methodist Church is providing a place where they won’t be forced into having the same feelings of joy and celebration others might be experiencing.
Gillette is opening the doors of Marlton United Methodist to the public once again this year on Dec. 21 for the church’s annual Longest Night Service.
Held on the Winter Solstice — the day of the year with the fewest hours of sunlight — Gillette said the event would provide members of the community a hopeful setting with quiet music and the dim light of flickering candles where people can reflect on their lives.
Whether members of her congregation or not, Gillette said the event would provide a “safe haven” for people to come find some peace.
“It’s the longest night of the year, and I think that’s significant because it signifies a long time of darkness or a period of darkness in our lives, but recognizing from here forward the days get longer and there’s more light coming,” Gillette said.
Despite the growth of the event, Gillette said the service retains its intimate feeling as a quiet, reflective time for those who might be experiencing sickness, debt, loneliness or even their first Christmas without a recently passed loved one.
“It allows people to feel their difficulty and work through it,” Gillette said. “There’s a need. I hear it time and time again. People struggle, and there’s comfort in also knowing that other people are going through similar situations.”
According to Gillette, she first experienced a Longest Night Service at a church in her native Texas more than 10 years ago.
Gillette said she learned of the service at a difficult time in her life when her son was diagnosed with childhood diabetes. Gillette said the service provided her with permission to not feel the joy and celebration as with so many of those around her.
“I could just be present in a moment and enjoy quiet hope and reflection during the season,” Gillette said. “Often I felt like if I had to force the joy and force celebration, it was more stressful and it grew in magnitude my pain … for me it was a huge blessing and huge time of healing.”
With Marlton United Methodist’s upcoming Longest Night Service on Dec. 21 starting at 7 p.m., Gillette said she wanted members of the community to know they should feel no pressure at the event.
Aside from a few minutes of hopeful speaking and scripture, Gillette said attendees could reflect with their thoughts.
“We’re not going to take your name and your email and your phone number,” Gillette said. “Come as you are, and there are no expectations of you. It’s just to come and experience some time of reflection and hopefully a glimmer of hope.”
Marlton United Methodist Church is located at 2 Marlborough Ave. For those looking for more structured Christmas services, Gillette said the church would also be holding a more traditional family-oriented Christmas Eve service on Dec. 24 at 5 p.m. and a candlelight service on Dec. 24 at 11 p.m.