Nate Widowmski • The Good of Goshen

Rachel Nafziger Harztler

Volunteer Pastor at College Mennonite Church

Published Dec. 2019

What if it’s not a wonderful time of the year? What if the holidays are hard?

If so, there’s a place to go.

A Longest Night service is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at College Mennonite Church in Goshen. The service is open to people of all faiths in the community.

“It’s for people who are grieving, suffering, or have experienced some kind of loss that makes it difficult to fully enter into the festivities of Christmas,” said Rachel Nafziger Harztler, a volunteer pastor at College Mennonite. “Often that’s the death of a loved one, but it can be a marriage ending by divorce, loss of a job, no money to buy Christmas gifts for children. There are many reasons why the Christmas season can be a very difficult one for people who are suffering in one way or another. And so this is like an alternative to come together as a community and lament together. …It’s a quiet, candlelight-type service of song and prayer, with a little poetry worked in.”

Hartzler did an academic study of grief when she was in seminary. Prior to that, she’d experienced it at a personal level: Hartzler’s husband died in 1999. She noted that her first experience with a Longest Night – sometimes known as a Blue Christmas service – was at the First Presbyterian Church along Beardsley Avenue in Elkhart.

“My grief was acknowledged and thoughtfully and respectfully held,” she said of her initial Longest Night. “I was among other grieving people.”

The Longest Night service will include short passages from Scripture, along with a candle-lighting and ritual of release.

“Rituals help us express what we can’t easily find words for,” Hartzler said. 

College Mennonite Church is located at 1900 S. Main St., Goshen.

Writing, editing, and photography by Scott Weisser and Neil King

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