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Boston’s LGBT Religious Groups Celebrate the Holidays

by Dan Meyer
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Dec 9, 2012

Holidays in Boston have become associated with a wide variety of traditions -- the City Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker," the Christmas tree light in Boston Common and First Night are just a few that come to mind.

Now that the winter holiday season is in full swing, Boston is well prepared to help the LGBT community at-large celebrate Christmas and Chanukah in a warm and open environment. From Chanukah parties to non-denominational services for people suffering during the holidays, EDGE Boston has the round-up.

A Light Through the Ages

On Dec. 9 at 4 p.m., the Central Reform Temple (15 Newbury St, Boston) will put on "A Light through the Ages," which is billed as a "Chanukah for Adults" event featuring classical and contemporary music by Emmanuel Music.

The celebration, based on the Festival of Lights, is adult-like in its approach to the meaning of the holiday. According to the event’s description, Rabbi Howard Berman will lead a service that "reflects on the deeper, universal ideals of the struggle for freedom and justice

"’A Light Through the Ages’ is a service/concert weaving original stories of the celebration of Chanukah in different times and places over the past two thousand years, with choral music selections from each of those historic periods," Rabbi Berman told EDGE.

It will highlight the importance of the holiday through story and song and share the legacy of the holiday throughout Jewish history. The Cantata culminates in a powerfully dramatic candle lighting ceremony in the darkened sanctuary, as everyone holds a taper and receives the light of the Menorah, sharing it with others.

Central Reform Temple is "a liberal, inclusive Reform Jewish Congregation committed to the opportunities, challenges, and diversity of urban life offering a special welcome to interfaith and multicultural families [and] gay and lesbian people."

Chanukah Dance Party

On the final night of Chanukah, a party will be held December 15 at the First Church in Boston, 66 Marlborough Street. The event is organized by Keshet, a group focused on the full inclusion of LGBT Jews in all facets of Jewish life.

Daniel Schulman, the new Massachusetts gay organizer of Keshet, couldn’t be more excited about the party and explained there is a wide range of attendees expected.

"We might have a twenty-something [gay guy] looking for a dance party, or we might get an 85-year grandmother of a lesbian," said Schulman.

Count on free food, limited open bar with wine and beer, and music by a band called the Doctors Fox, a unique rock group with gender-bending song writing and a brash mix of musical styles. Activities include a menorah lighting, dancing and singing.

When asked why Keshet didn’t plan on having the party at a synagogue or temple, Daniel said it’s not just due to lack of space on a Saturday night during the holiday season, adding, "We hold our events in places that foster interfaith relationships that are also welcoming to the LGBT community."

The event is free, but people can feel free to donate to the organization. Following the party, Keshet has reserved a VIP section at EPIC Saturdays hosted by House of Blues, Boston’s biggest LGBT club night on Saturdays.

Feeling Blue at Christmastime?

December can be rough for those going through hard times; that’s why Reverend Pam Werntz of Emmanuel Church (15 Newbury St, Boston) started "The Blue Christmas Service."

It’s an event for people suffering losses of all kinds (from death to unemployment to relationship break-ups) who need support in the form of prayer and community.

The service is always held on the Dec. 21, because it’s the longest night of the year (a Friday this year) and represents the dark and bleak feeling that many of the attendees carry with them.

"The idea and experience of how hard December holidays can be on people and it seems like the darkness and cold weather can exacerbate the gulf between what people wish they felt and how they actually feel," explained Rev. Werntz. "The story is that Jesus Christ is born into this mess...the chaos."

That’s a sentiment that reaches out to attendees who are struggling with the sorrow and confusion in their own lives.

One of the highlights of the service is the inclusion of new music by local composer Brett Johnson, crafted in memory of his own personal loss within his family.

"Emmanuel’s Blue Christmas service is really beautiful. It’s an intimate, deeply personal, healing service," said Johnson. "The services in the last two years have been profound for me. And it’s been a privilege to sing in both, and have music that I’ve written performed by exquisite singers."

It’s not necessary to feel sad or lonely to attend the service. In fact Rev. Werntz encourages people from all faiths and backgrounds to attend, as it helps lend support and comfort to those who are suffering from losses of all kinds. "Showing up can be a tremendous gift," she said.

The idea came to the reverend several years ago when her former partner and best friend died on Dec. 21. "When she died, I thought ’oh my gosh’ I’m going to be one of those people that really need some comfort now."

The event isn’t somber, per se, despite the negative situations. "It’s quite uplifting for people to gather and name the sorrow in the prayer for healing," Rev. Werntz said. "It’s not happy-clappy, though. It’s not ’Joy to the World.’ It’s more like the hymn ’In the Bleak Mid-Winter’ A quiet acknowledgment of hope in a bleak time."

According to Werntz, Emmanuel Church’s commitment to the LGBT community goes back to the late ’60s. The leadership of the church has had very prominent LGBT representation. In addition, the first blessing of same-sex marriage was in 1982.

Christmas Eve at Arlington Street Church

Celebrate the birth of Jesus at Arlington Street Church-Unitarian Universalist (351 Boylston Street) on Christmas Eve with the Boston Gay Men’s Choir during the 7 and 9 p.m. services.

"It’s a pretty amazing way to celebrate Christmas Eve!" said Laura Evonne Steinman, Director of Religious Education for Children and Families/Artist in Residence.

Steinman added in an e-mail that the church is incredibly open and welcoming to members of the LGBT community. "Our 1st Unitarian Universalist Principle reads: ’We affirm and promote the inherit worth and dignity of every person,’" she said.

During the service, churchgoers will participate in a candle lighting ceremony and Christmas carols.

Can’t make it on Christmas Eve? The Boston Gay Men’s Choir will be performing holiday selections at the church on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. and Dec. 14, 15 and 17 at 8 p.m.

Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA’s LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.


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