A few weeks ago I was in a staff meeting at Auburn UMC and feeling the excitement of our church staff as we finalized plans for Advent and Christmas.

Rev. Chris Kelsey shared an exciting new campaign called ChristmasInAuburn.com where we highlight on the web many activities taking place in our community and church. Those sitting around the table that day were thrilled to think of the ease of sharing the good news of special concerts, parades, pageants, markets and the live nativity on Christmas Eve for our community.

Then, the tenor and tone of our conversation changed when someone shared the simple and important statement of truth that the holidays before us will be very different for many in our Auburn community and region of East Alabama. We knew what she meant.

We sat back and one by one mentioned all that had occurred for families in our area in 2019. The spring tornado, the loss of police officer William Buechner, the tragic accident involving Rod and Paula Bramblett and, of course, our missing college student, Aniah Blanchard. These high profile moments, alongside the loss of family and friends in our community, will set the tone for a different type of season for so many.

There are many ways people seek to cope with grief during the holidays and every person and every family is different. I do not know of a cookie cutter approach to help people journey through grief, particularly during moments when our culture begins singing songs with words like “Happy” or “Wonderful” or “Joy” in them. What I do know is that people long for others to remember and name their loved one.

When we lose someone close to us, we think about them all the time, so please know it is OK to share your love for someone who is missed, and it is all right to include the names of those we miss in our table blessings.

Consider lighting a candle for one who is not a part of this year’s celebrations. You may also want to consider attending worship services such as “The Longest Night” on Dec. 22 hosted by Auburn UMC and other churches in our community to remember and name the loss many of us feel.

Finally, give people permission to participate in the Thanksgiving and Christmas season in a new way. It is OK to change plans and even adopt a new tradition.  

I am grateful for the ChristmasInAuburn.com web domain. I also join with many in our community praying for those who deeply long for the hope, peace, joy, love and light that we all long for and will celebrate in the weeks to come.

Dr. Cory Smith is the Senior Minister of Auburn United Methodist Church. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, The Candler School of Theology at Emory University and Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He is married to Alicia, and they have one daughter, Sarah Morgan

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