Pastor Rob Wilson of Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Avon is not a big fan of the chaotic Christmas season and its commercialized demands on people to pursue the perfect Rockwellian holiday dream. It’s impossible to achieve, he says, and therefore puts undue pressure on families and individuals – some of whom may buckle under the unrelenting seasonal stress.
So, for the ninth straight year, ERPC will hold its annual “Service of Light and Hope” from 6 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7, two weeks ahead of the worst of the Christmas crush that tends to parallel the shortest day of the year and the winter solstice on Dec. 21.
This year the service has been moved up in part as a response to the growing suicide crisis in Eagle County.
“This is our ninth year of doing a ‘Service of Light and Hope’ at ERPC, and it may be most critical this year. As the recent Vail Daily article on suicide in the Vail Valley stated, people are often overwhelmed with such darkness that it leads to hopelessness,” Wilson said, referring to a story on Wednesday about the county’s 13th and possibly 14th suicide deaths so far this year.
“Our service reminds people that they are not alone, that there is hope for all people, and that there is power in facing darkness in a community … even if that community meets one time a year. Our church has embraced this service because it seeks to love our entire community and anyone in it who is in need of light and hope.”
Eagle County is currently experiencing one of the highest per-capita suicide rates in the state, according to public health experts who blame a variety of factors, including economic pressure. Wilson hopes to head off the feelings of despair that can come with the Christmas holiday.
“I have discovered that in my almost 24 years of ministry that the Christmas celebration has been hijacked to some extent,” Wilson said. “From TV commercials filled with smiling actors, to family Christmas cards that share how great our year was, to the promise of that unattainable Norman Rockwell, picture-perfect Christmas, we have been left with a myth that stretches from the Thanksgiving holiday through New Year’s Day.”
He adds that it’s imperative to slow down, seek human connection and reach out to others in need.
“That [Christmas] myth runs in direct opposition to the reality of many peoples’ lives this time of year,” Wilson said. “The rush of the season does not leave us smiling, but frantic, our families and friendships are many times broken or disintegrating before our eyes, and for those experiencing depression, grief from all kinds of loss, the cycle of addiction and separation from loved ones and home, the reality of this season is far from picture-perfect, but downright dark and overwhelming.”
That’s why Wilson wants folks to feel at home at ERPC this season, not just on Dec. 7, but any time of the year. He urges people to remember what Christmas is all about.
“The very celebration of Christmas is to remember that God so loved us that the prophet Isaiah wrote centuries before Christ’s birth that ‘the people walking in darkness will see a great light; a light has dawned upon them; this light shines on those who live in a land of deep darkness,’” Wilson said. “In other words, Christmas is for those of us who are walking in darkness — deep darkness — and need light and hope.”
As “Service of Light and Hope” is from 6 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7, at Eagle River Presbyterian Church on 455 Nottingham Ranch Road in Avon. Call (970) 748-0040 or go to www.erpc.org for more information.