The sermon and service last Sunday was about The Wizard of Oz, and I came up with a two-word summary of the story: purposeful companionship. Dorothy and the friends she met on her journey along the Yellow Brick Road, the scarecrow, tin man and lion, were ‘off to see the Wizard’ hoping to find what they needed: brains, a heart, courage, and a way back to Kansas – home. I thought, later, that I should have called it the Wizard of Us.
The story about Dorothy and her traveling companions applies to us, of course. We’re traveling through life together, meeting up with folks along the way who share our sense of hope. Hope is generated by purposeful companionship, a sense of hope.
One of the most effective ways of generating that sense of hope is our weekly candle lighting time when we reveal something about ourselves, about our loved ones who are at the core of what we call ‘self.’
Twenty-three years ago, the Ministerial Search Committee told me about candle lighting, as a regular part of the Sunday service, and they asked if I would be comfortable continuing to have it as part of the Sunday service. I said, “If it’s working, by all means, I’ll be glad to keep it.”
Candle lighting works. It has been extremely important to me and to us; it connects us to one another, and helps us to stay centered or connected to our deeper selves. It puts names with faces. It provides support and encouragement for the difficult times, and allows us to face the great tasks that face us, and to celebrate our accomplishments. It invites deeper contact.
Many times during my first few years I was told, “We should do away with candle lighting.” Some said it was too depressing to hear about other people’s troubles. Some complained that ‘the same people get up, over and over.’ Some complained because it took too much time, that some people go ‘on and on,’ and some complained because people used candle lighting to make an announcement about an upcoming event they wanted to promote, or to make a political speech. Every complaint had some validity, but not enough to end it entirely.
I listened, carefully, but I was, and remain, convinced that our candle lighting is one of the keys to our sense of companionship, to our becoming a caring congregation. I’ve tried to address each of the concerns. I’ve asked folks to be very brief, a half a minute, putting my hand on an arm or shoulder when they’re going on too long. I’ve asked people to be sure to identify themselves, and to speak slowly and clearly into the microphone so they can be heard and understood.
From time to time we have a problem, but by and large I’m satisfied that the risks and the work involved is worth it. So it pained me, deeply, a couple of weeks ago when too many people got up to light candles, and I had to interrupt and ask people to light them in silence. I apologized before delivering the sermon that day – I was shaken by the experience. I spoke to some whose candle lighting was interrupted, and I listened to and read some thoughtful suggestions about how to improve the process. We’ll keep working on it, together, giving substance to our statement of affirmation, and our purposeful companionship. Thanks for your understanding.