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Holiday service offers relief from seasonal depression

Evening intended to address emotional and spiritual needs

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2000

A solemn pre-Christmas service for all denominations aims to bring relief from the gloom that seems inevitable for some.

"The Longest Night" service will begin at 6 p.m. Sunday in the log chapel at Chapel by the Lake near Auke Lake. About 20 organizers, all lay people, have been involved in planning this free service, which has become an annual holiday event after several years of positive reaction from the public.

"Most of the program is music," said organizer Philip Mitchell. "Before and after the service, Rita Klaudt will play the harp. During the service, Doug Smith will play piano. Upbeat things like 'Jingle Bells' aren't appropriate; he'll play hymns and more thoughtful, seasonal music."

"The Longest Night" was inspired by several ideas. One is literal; winter solstice is the longest night of the year. Another is spiritual; many religions describe the coming of a savior as a light appearing in darkness.

"We recognize that it's the big holiday season of the year, but it's not always a joyous time for some people," Mitchell said. "As we know, living here in Juneau, even with family here, it is not necessarily a good time because of the darkness. A lot of people have a dark feeling. They may be mourning for a parent or another family member who is recently deceased. They may be depressed. They may be away from family because they can't afford to travel."

"I know one woman who would have celebrated her 32nd wedding anniversary this season, but she's recently divorced," he said.

Those who attend may be of any denomination, or no particular faith. No one is required to participate in the service, Mitchell said. However, there will be candles available should people wish to light one in remembrance of a loved one.

Chapel by the Lake volunteers will be available for sympathetic conversation after the service. "We are not counselors, but some of us have seven or eight years of training in caregiving and in listening skills," Mitchell said. "But no one has to share if he chooses not to."

Martha Morris is one of the listeners who will be on hand following the service.

"Any displacement within your life, even moving a long way to work in Alaska, can lead to feelings of depression, Morris said. "Any crisis that changes the pattern of the life you have always known" and which hasn't been resolved yet can make the season less jolly.

"We'll all have name tags on. We're available to let people be who they are and where they are and not try to push them into anything. And a fair number of them really do want to talk," Morris said.

For more details, call Morris at 789-9688.

Ann Chandonnet may be reached at achandonnet@juneau-empire.com.



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