Christmas service for people who have lost loved ones
A west Wales church has attracted yet another encouraging congregation for its fourth annual "Christmas Without" service.
"Christmas Without was the brainchild of one of my members," explained Rob James, Pastor of Westgate Evangelical Chapel Pembroke.
"As a widow she finds life particularly hard at this time of the year. Our culture's intense focus on family can prove deeply painful for those who have lost loved ones."
And James has discovered that in one sense time is irrelevant. "We have one lady who lost a sibling three decades ago, yet the sound of an emergency vehicle hurrying to help someone can still send shivers up and down her spine," he explained.
The short service included Scripture readings and prayers together with a selection of helpful poems and music. Visitors were allowed to stay as long as they required and opportunities for personal prayer were also offered.
"We tend not to sing so much as sit and meditate," James added. "And we have discovered that even non conformists find it helpful to light a candle in memory of a loved one. And of course we prayed and talked a lot after knowing that the God of all peace can do more than we imagine for those who need it.
"We are aware that the pain of losing someone can tempt people to give up believing in God altogether which is why I often spend time reflecting on the life of Jesus' earthly father Joseph.
"I guess he must have been confused and wondering what was happening to him at the time. The Bible tells us that he had tried his best to live a good life, and yet, in spite of his best efforts, everything seemed to have gone "pear-shaped."
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His fiancée had got pregnant, he was not the father and she could not come up with anything better than "it's God's fault".
"Given the socially conservative culture he grew up in I can only begin to imagine the sort of pressures Joseph came under," says James.
"Divorce was the obvious proper solution. And even after he came to the conclusion that Mary was telling him the truth he must have had his moments of doubt. As the American song writer Michael Card wrote: The worst in him must have wondered if he wasn't the biggest fool in Bethlehem.
"And yet Joseph finally chose to put his faith in God even though he knew that it was going to prove a costly even risky business. And he must have given it his best shot too because Jesus taught his disciples that the best way to understand God was as a heavenly father. I wonder how easily he could have done that if he had not caught a glimpse of what real fatherhood can mean in and through the life of the shadowy figure we know as Joseph, the carpenter.
"At times like this I try to assure those who are grieving the loss of loved ones that Joseph's God hasn't changed. They can trust in Him and can know Him as their Immanuel too."
The service was the most successful to date and the leadership expects it to be a regular feature of their active Christmas programme in the foreseeable future.