I hope this message finds you all well and enjoying this wonderful fall weather.
This month is our fifth of a seven-part series of our UU History and how we came to be. Last month you heard about The Flower Communion of 1923 where Minister Ĉapek’s (pronounced CHAH-peck) church was so plain and he asked his congregants to bring flowers and branches with buds and they made a beautiful bouquet to bring life to their church. “These flowers are like ourselves, different colors, different shapes, and different sizes, each needing different kinds of care – but each beautiful, each important and special, in its own way.” They then chose a different flower to take home, and this tradition continues to this day in many if not all UU churches.
This month we will learn about the Flaming Chalice. Do you remember the children making their chalices with Pam Holliday way back in 2019 before the pandemic hit us, as she shared her own clay with the children to shape and make their own designs on their own chalices to take home? Pam fired them and the children painted them and shared them at the end of one of our services.
The children also spoke in the service about all the different parts of the chalice and what it means. The base is for the stories that we share, the stem is for all the Unitarian Universalists in the world, the bowl is for our Unitarian Coastal Fellowship, the fuel that keeps us going is goodness, freedom, and action, and the flame that burns is the flame of hope and truth. Ella and Halle’s chalices sit proudly on our mantel to this day and are used when we share Sunday services together.
Today, here is the story behind the flaming chalice.
Circles of Light – The Flaming Chalice – 1941
By Janeen K. Grohsmeyer
In the dark nights and darker days of World War II, when guns blazed all over Europe and airplanes dropped death from the sky, some Unitarians in the United States decided to help the refugees, the people who were trying to escape from the war. So, the Unitarian Service Committee was formed. The committee members went to Europe to try to bring the refugees safely out of the war.
But some of those refugees spoke German, some spoke French, some spoke Italian or Yiddish or some other language. Dr. Charles Joy, who was in charge of the committee, knew that the Unitarians needed a symbol that everyone could recognize, no matter what language they spoke or what country they were from.
In 1941, in the city of Lisbon, Dr. Joy asked the artist Hans Deutsch for help. Hans Deutsch was a refugee himself. In fact, he’d been a refugee more than once. He had been born in Austria, but when the Nazis invaded his country, he fled to Paris. Then, the Nazis invaded Paris! So, Hans Deutsch fled to Portugal, where he met Dr. Joy.
“Draw us a symbol, Dr. Joy asked. “Make it look important and official, so it will impress the officials of different countries, yet have it show the spirit of our work, which is to help and to serve.”
And so, with pencil and with ink, Hans Deutsch drew a chalice with a flame, surround by a circle of protection and love. Refugees all over Europe came to know and trust that sign, and the flaming chalice became a symbol of freedom and hope during the dark nights and darker days of that war.
Over thirty years later, in 1976, after the Unitarians and the Universalists had joined to form the Unitarian Universalist Association, that one circle drawn around the flaming chalice became two. (That’s the symbol on the hymnbooks.) One circle is for Unitarians, one circle is for Universalists. The circles aren’t one inside the other, they’re intertwined. They’re connected, just as all of us are connected to each other and to everything in the world.
The chalice isn’t in the middle of the circles, it’s a little off to one side, to leave space for other ideas and other ways. There’s always room for more in Unitarian Universalism.
That picture of the chalice in the double circle has been used officially since 1976. Real flaming chalices have been used in some of our churches for over fifty years. In1981, Reverend David Poul lit a chalice at a General Assembly meeting during the Service of the Living Tradition, which is held to celebrate the lives of UU ministers. Many of the ministers who were there that day went home to their churches and fellowships, and they decided to get chalices of their own.
Today, all over the world, Unitarian Universalists light the Flaming Chalice. We light one every Sunday when we gather for worship. Some of us have a smaller chalice in our houses, and we light a chalice before every meal, or at other special times.
We have all kinds of chalices. Chalices are carved out of wood, shaped out of glass, or molded out of clay. We even wear them as jewelry or as pictures on our clothes. Chalices come in lots of different shapes and sizes and colors, just like Unitarian Universalists.
The Flaming Chalice was drawn more than sixty years ago, and it is still a symbol of freedom, and hope, and light. It’s a symbol of learning and caring and love. It’s our symbol, the symbol of Unitarian Universalism. The End.
On this page is our Unitarian Coastal Fellowship chalice designed by our past member Ann Fiske, a teacher and artist.
Next Week: In one of our recent services, I read the story about the Consolidation of the Unitarians and Universalists in 1961 on how we became one church. For those who were not able to attend you can read the story next month. This will be our sixth of seven UU history stories.
In spirit and love,