It wasn’t on the program, but it was a request: a “good” rendition of “Blue Christmas.”
“I’ll do my best Elvis,” musician Henry Reiff said, strapping on his acoustic guitar in the sanctuary of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ on Friday night. And his Elvis wasn’t bad.
About two dozen people gathered for the annual Blues Christmas and Homeless Memorial Service, a program of St. Paul’s in conjunction with The Shepherd’s Staff, Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists and Westminster United Methodist Church.
It was an occasion somber, celebratory and musical to mark the long night of the winter solstice.
“We gather here, safe from the cold, on this longest night, unafraid of the dark, but rather hoping to discover beauty in the darkness,” St. Paul’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma, read to those in attendance. “We dare to create a holy space here, into which we might give full voice to the blues, listening at the same time for the emergence of a new song.”
Matt Peregoy, of Hampstead, works for Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc. by day, but Friday night he attended the service purely as a musician to offer a rendition of “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother,” by B.B. King.
“It just felt like a really meaningful time, to take time to remember those who often get overlooked or forgotten about,” he said. “To remember that there are a lot of folks who really struggle through the holidays. It’s OK to make time for them.”
Brenda Meadows, executive director of The Shepherd’s Staff, led the memorial portion of the program, reading the first names of the 16 homeless people who had died in Carroll County in 2018.
“Joe, Brenda, Valerie, Valerie, Jeremy,” she read. “Denise, Karisa, Sanda, Gordon, Nathan, Robert.”
There were also, Francisco, Brooke, Robert, Peter and Luther.
“A lot of them don’t have people to do this for them,” said John Bulger, of Westminster. “Somebody has got to pray for them.”
Having experienced homelessness himself about a decade ago, Bulger said he likes to volunteer and has attended the Blues Christmas event since it was started.
“Four or five years,” Kuchma said, when estimating when the event changed focus. “We used to do this in collaboration with Dove House, so it had more of a grief focus. Then as we became more involved with the homeless community, we realized there was a need for a time to remember homeless people who’ve died.”
It was Stacia Smith’s first time at the event. As a peer recovery support specialist with the Carroll County Health Department, outreach to people who are homeless is what she does every day.
“It’s wonderful to be a part of this because I do hold the memory of some people who are not here anymore, that I worked with in the community,” she said. “I could come in Monday morning and find out somebody I worked with, and been working with for years, has passed on.”
After a candle-lighting ceremony — to a bluesy rendition of “Silent Night” — Smith stood at the front of the sanctuary to offer a blessing on mats.
“The mats here are something that we give out quite often. They always come over to the office and people look forward to them,” she said of the people she works with. “Sometimes all they may need from me is a kind word, or sometimes just a hug, or sometimes a ride somewhere. Or sometimes a mat.”
Latest Carroll County News
Then, asking everyone to pray with her, she said, “Lord, God. I ask that you would bless any and every individual who has ever laid upon a mat, laid upon the ground, the grass, the sand. Anywhere under the stars.”