By Elsie Walker
On Dec. 11, a virtual 24 hour wave of candlelight will go around the globe as people in different time zones, remember children they have lost. Locally, a candlelight ceremony is being held at the United Presbyterian Church, Flanders, at 7 p.m.
The worldwide candle lighting comes near a time many associate with children: Christmas. It gives those who grieve a chance to get together, know that they are not alone, and share in a special time of remembrance.
The worldwide candle lighting is a program of Compassionate Friends, an organization which helps those grieving the loss of a child, be it a parent, sibling or grandparent.
“We got involved several years ago when a family new to our church tragically lost their teenage son through a tragic accident,” said Rev. Rick Oppelt, pastor of the church. “I believe I found Compassionate Friends in the process of googling resources to help this family. We have been holding these annual services ever since.”
The Compassionate Friends is an organization founded more than 40 years ago. It was started when a pastor in England brought together two sets of grieving parents as he realized their understanding of each other’s situation was the best type of support to be offered. The organization has grown to have chapters around the world with 660 chapters across the United States. These chapters meet to offer support to those grieving the loss of a child. The organization’s website with chapter information is found at https://www.compassionatefriends.org
Oppelt noted that the yearly candle lighting is important as there are not many avenues available for grieving parents to come together and memorialize their lost children in such a way. Also, at this service, they can be together in a warm, caring environment, with others who understand their pain. However, while the service is aimed at parents who have lost a child at any age, often other family members attend as well.
The pastor also noted that the candlelight gathering is open to all faiths and those with none.
“It’s simple,” said Oppelt in describing the gathering. “As they sign in, everyone is given a memorial candle. During the ceremony, each family may come forward, light a candle, say their loved one’s name and if they wish, something brief about them. There are a couple of readings during the service and refreshments afterwards. While we hold our service in our sanctuary, it is not a formally religious ceremony, no prayers, no hymns. It is designed to be open to all faiths – or none.”
Oppelt shared that the church is humbled to be able to offer this candle lighting to help those who have lost a child.
“We believe it is important enough to continue these services no matter who attends. We have those who have come year after year, and always a few newcomers who have heard about it.”
For more information about the candlelight ceremony, contact the church at 973-584-8195.