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Shedding light on the season of light

The Rev. Jennifer Brownell, senior pastor at Hillsdale United Church of Christ, on the holiday season


by: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - Jennifer Brownell.You could say that the Rev. Jennifer Brownell is something of an authority on the holidays. As the senior pastor at Hillsdale United Church of Christ — plus a wife and mother — her business is honoring the spirit of the season. What does it all mean?

“What I like the best about the holidays is the opportunity to celebrate with our families, whatever they look like for us,” Brownell says. “In a faith community, you should be able to celebrate with your family whatever it looks like — single people, grandparents, grandchildren, gay/lesbian families, traditional … all those to be able to come together and celebrate. The culture at large gives us a picture of a very traditional family, all ‘Norman Rockwell,’ but Norman Rockwell didn’t have a ‘Norman Rockwell’ kind of family. So I think when we kind of imagine the sort of turkey and the family all sitting around, we often feel like our family is deficient somehow, but what I love about this time is that we’re able to celebrate our families whatever they area and wherever they are.”

Brownell is also adamant that the holiday season is a time when people of seemingly disparate walks of life can find some common ground.

“I think all of the celebrations that I know of that happen at this time of year, whether they’re Christian or Jewish or pagan, all of them are about looking for the light,” she explains. “It’s natural this time of year, when the days are getting shorter and shorter, for us to desire and yearn for and hope for the return of hope and light, and so I think all of our celebrations have this in common: that we desire the hope that light can bring and we look for it wherever we can.”

How can they find that light?

“I always encourage people to go for in their holiday celebrations to go for compassion over compassion over perfection,” advises Brownell. “Compassion for themselves, and the other people in their extended circles and for the planet.”

Brownell strive to practice what she preaches.

“A lot of time we have these pictures of a perfectly wrapped presents or perfect gathering and everybody dressed beautifully, and it’s just really important to be compassionate with ourselves, and we do this thing here, we have a Christmas pageant on Dec. 29, at 10:30 and everybody comes who wants to come,” she says. “It just kind of unfolds over the next hour, no practices, no sense of everybody having to do the right way or a particular way and that’s the kind of celebration that I like to encourage: not the kind that requires a lot of preparation, but the kind that we can just be open to as it’s happening.

“I just think we need to remember that what really matters is that you can be together with people who love you and that might take many different forms, but being able to find the community of people.”

Drew Dakessian can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 108.