I was so looking forward to the Christmas Eve service at my church, Eglinton St. George’s United in Toronto. After the mad buildup to the big day last year, I was anticipating that special time of contemplation and peacefulness.
When I arrived at the church, the organist was playing quietly. My friends were sitting in their usual places. There was a soft buzz around me, with people exchanging Christmas wishes back and forth.
Suddenly, there was a commotion. A woman I had never seen before stormed up the centre aisle, planted herself behind the communion table and slammed a bottle of wine down onto it. She yelled out to the assembled throng, “Listen up, everybody. What do you think you are doing? How can you sit there when my son has died!” Her face was contorted in grief.
At first, I wondered if this was a scripted drama to start the service, but I very quickly realized it was real.
The sanctuary was dead silent. Everyone was riveted on the scene unfolding before us. When one staff member approached her, she responded, “F— off! Do not touch me!”
Others approached the woman, but no one was able to calm her. One of the leaders left and called 911, asking for a mental health team.
It seemed to be an impossible situation. The woman would call out her painful story and walk partway down the aisle. Just when we thought she was leaving, she would turn around and head back up to the chancel, gesturing wildly.
No one could persuade her to leave. Both her body language and her words became more and more violent. Some people got up and went home.
Finally, about 30 minutes after the initial call was made, a mental health team arrived. Rev. Craig Donnelly told us as quietly as he could that we should all go down to the gym while they handled the situation.
More people just went home, but most of us went downstairs where several hundred chairs had been hastily set up. The choir sang a carol. We just stood there, shell-shocked. Our minds were whirling. Nothing seemed right.
Word soon came down that the mental health team had convinced the woman to leave with them in an ambulance that would take her to hospital. We went back upstairs, and an abbreviated service began, some 45 minutes late.
Even though the woman was gone, her pain was not ignored or glossed over. Donnelly reminded us that we were witnesses to the raw agony this season can trigger and that Christmas is not just a time for quiet contemplation. It’s also the haunted cry in the wilderness, the plea for justice, for comfort, for God’s healing love to be born in our hearts again. How many go to bed on Christmas Eve hungry, frightened, alone, unsafe, unsheltered or in pain? The woman had asked Donnelly, “Where is my son?” He reminded us that the answer is the same for everyone. We all come home to God, no matter the circumstances of our lives.
It’s too bad that some people left and didn’t hear Donnelly’s words. In the end, for me, it was the most profound Christmas Eve service I have ever experienced. I can only hope that the distraught woman, too, has found some peace.
Geegee Mills is a member of Eglinton St. George’s United in Toronto.
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