I’m often asked about our Sunday morning candle lighting. I’ve listened to colleagues and lay people wrestle with questions and issues around it. Ministers are sometimes reluctant to invite people to come forward, afraid they may take too much time, or may make political speeches.
After reading comments in a UUA publication for lay leaders called InterConnections, I wrote the following comment which they printed in the March issue:
“The article on ‘joys and concerns’ was a joy to read, but it left me with a concern. The joy is that so many of our congregations are inviting participation in the Sunday service. The concern is that so few make the most of it.
“When I arrived in Westport 17 years ago I was asked by the search committee if I would be willing to continue the candle lighting element in the order of service which my predecessor had started. I said, ‘Of course, if it works.’
“The thing is, it didn’t really work well. So I worked at it. That’s the point, in a nutshell. To make it work well, the worship leader has to work at it. It takes time. Years, really.
“Our candle lighting is one of the most important ingredients in our congregation, and not only in the Sunday service. It is also the glue which holds us together, the spirit which unites us. People need to be told what candle lighting is about and how to do it. First, it must be personal, not political. Not an announcement.
“To be personal, it should be heartfelt. Not an idea. The candle lighter must introduce him or herself, and be brief. If someone starts to go ‘on,’ the worship leader can put a hand on the person’s shoulder and whisper, ‘Thank you.” Often the hand is enough.
“I try to include most of the candles in my meditation. This requires concentration and the ability not to be thrown by the occasional inappropriate one. Yes, it takes time. And, yes, the sermon is sometimes shortened a bit, but there are often very important candles and during my sermon I think about things candle lighters have said and refer to them: ‘As John told us this morning, the support of a friend at just the right time can make all the difference.’ It moves the sermon from theory to present reality.
“People almost always approach candle lighters in the coffee hour and they tell me how supported they feel. Our candle lighting deepens our worship. When the community understands what it’s about and develops a ‘culture of candle lighting’ it enhances the service the way no other single ingredient can. I encourage our clergy and lay leaders to work at candle lighting.” I wanted you to see what I wrote about you-and to tell you how much I appreciate you. Together we continue to make our affirmation real: “Love is the spirit of this church…to dwell together in peaceand to help one another.”