UUCARDS chalice UUCARDs - Unitarian Universalist Curriculum and Resource Developers

The Flaming Chalice: From Logo to Religious Symbol
With Help from the Religious Education Community
By Betty Jo Middleton
©Betty Jo Middleton 2001

The evolution of the flaming chalice--designed in 1941 as a logo for the Unitarian Service Committee--into a religious symbol for many Unitarian Universalists has been documented by Daniel D. Hotchkiss in a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) pamphlet1, the Journal of Unitarian Universalist History, First Days Record, and the Unitarian Universalist World.2. In his article in First Days Record in September 1999, Hotchkiss asks ministerial colleagues for information they may have to aid him in his research for a forthcoming book. He touches upon the role of religious educators in the transition from logo to symbol:
By the late 1970s, some congregations had begun to light actual chalices with real flames in them. I have a hunch that in many places it started as a thing to do with children, and spread later on to the "adult" service.
Hotchkiss also refers to the use of flaming chalice jewelry as presentation gifts to support milestones in religious education programs.
Anecdotal accounts and recollections suggest that the transformation came about primarily through the use of the flaming chalice in religious education programs, children's worship, and Unitarian Universalist youth groups. More research is necessary to confirm this thesis. Some early uses of the flaming chalice in religious education include: the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee's "A Guest at Your Table Program," activities and crafts relating to the flaming chalice, and the actual lighting of candles in chalices. The purpose of this brief paper is to illustrate some uses in religious education materials and practices which appear to predate general usage of the Lighting of the Chalice as a ritual in Sunday morning worship services and to suggest avenues for further investigation. It will consider actual practice in religious education and worship services in three Greater Washington, D.C., area congregations.

While some uses of the flaming chalice in a context other than as the logo of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) have been noted prior to 1975, the next ten years were the decade during which new attitudes toward and usages of the flaming chalice emerged. Among earlier uses noted is the lighting of a chalice in a youth-sponsored intergenerational Christmas service in the West Shore Unitarian Church in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1965.3
In 1975 the UUA issued a commemorative booklet, A Heritage of Growing Light, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the American Unitarian Association. There is no photograph of a lighted chalice, flaming chalice jewelry, or flaming chalice T-shirts in the booklet, although lighted candles are shown on the cover and inside the booklet. These words appear in the section on symbols:
Candles symbolize many things.. .learning, continuity, the passing of time, illumination and freedom. Fire, the element which transforms the simple wax cylinder into the candle long has symbolized life. Our own denomination has widely used the flaming chalice as its symbol of enlightenment and life. Sometimes we have enclosed it within two intertwined circles-the circle being symbolic of many things as well-among them, life, unity, universality, and to some, the shape of the temple of worship. Examples can be seen in the Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Schenectady, New York,
churches, among others.4
The preceding page has illustrations of flaming chalices, one a “handmade stained glass chalice" and one in a wooden mosaic. The Little Rock and Schenectady churches are pictured elsewhere, although the metal flaming chalice sculpture on the front of the Little Rock church5, placed there when the building was completed in 1965, is not shown. The picture of the interior of the Schenectady church shows wooden bas relief chalices.
The UUSC's Guest at Your Table program was started in 1976. It was always pointed toward religious educators and included religious education as well as worship materials. A religious education curriculum guide for older elementary children was published, further cementing the relationship between UUSC and religious educators.
Religious education materials developed locally throughout the UUA began to include activities related to the flaming chalice in the 1970s. UU Culture, a program developed at All Souls' Church in Washington, D.C., by Frank Robertson was printed and widely distributed by the Joseph Priestley District Religious Education Committee. It contains a unit on symbols6 and an activity where junior high youth design their own symbol and then study six pictured symbols, identified as "common symbols" to Unitarian Universalists. The first of these is the UUSC flaming chalice and the description reads: "The flaming chalice represents world service as a light in a world of darkness and suffering. It was first used by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and most used by American Unitarian Universalists today."
Celebrating Our Roots and Branches, a religious education program for children ages five to eight, was developed in the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1976-1977, field tested in other churches in the Greater Washington, D.C. area, and published in 1979 by the Joseph Priestley District Religious Education Committee. A unit on "American Religion" includes a learning center on symbols and a "UU" learning center, which the curriculum guide suggests include "flaming chalices of different sizes, styles and materials." One activity is to make flaming chalice pendants, and a drawing of a child wearing one is included.7 The text says "One class had four flaming chalice T-shirts in different sizes to try on and observe in a full-length mirror." These commercially printed T-shirts were sold by Mount Vernon youth as a fundraiser. The 1986 revision of the curriculum reflects the growing emphasis on Unitarian Universalist identity with an additional six session unit on "Celebrating Our Unitarian Universalist Roots and Branches."8 Suggestions include having a church member make a flaming Chalice puzzle (using directions from the First Unitarian Church in Dallas, Texas, which had appeared in a UUA REACH packet in the early eighties), providing UUSC flaming chalice jewelry for hands-on exploration, singing "This Little Light of Mine" and "Rise Up O Flame," and making a flaming chalice sun catcher. General directions for the closing session "Celebrating," say "Be sure you have a chalice to light," indicating that this instruction would be clearly understood by religious education teachers without further elaboration.
By this time, many children in Greater Washington congregations had made the flaming chalice their own symbol of their faith. One illustration took place in 1981: Two fourth grade girls met in school and quickly became friends. When Megan visited Lucia and they went through Lucia's button collection, Megan pounced on one from the UUSC that featured a flaming chalice and said, "I didn't know you were a UU, Lucia!" Although the girls attended the same public school, they participated in religious education programs in different churches.9
Examination of printed orders for worship services and services of ordination and installation give some clues to local practice with regard to chalice lightings, although the preference of individual ministers plays a role as well. At the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, where the lighting of a chalice was an understood practice in the religious education program in 1986, and some orders of service prior to that indicate a chalice was lighted in the adult worship service, the order for installation of two ministers10 in November of 1986 includes "The Lighting of Candles," which were gifts from the ministers, it does not use the word "chalice."

In the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville, Maryland, the following "Lighting of the Chalices" was used in religious education sometime between 1982 and 198411, with the religious educator and five youth participating:
Light is so important to human beings that many religions have made
it a major symbol of faith. . . Our own flaming chalice is a symbol which we took from our Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.. .Even though our churches and societies are quite diverse, this sign is recognized by Unitarian Universalists throughout the world. Even though these chalices, or cups, are diverse, the symbol is the same.
I light this light for freedom.
I light this light for truth.
I light this light for beauty.
I light this light for diversity.
I light this light for unity.
Six services of ordination and/or installation of ministers 12 took place in the Rockville congregation in the years 1980-2000. In only two are the words "Chalice Lighting" or "Lighting of the Chalice" used, although chalices may have been present for the other services. That language was absent in three services of ordination and one installation in the 1980s, and absent in an installation service in 1992. It was used in an ordination service in 1990 and an installation in 2000. This indicates a use of the flaming chalice in religious education long before it was an established part of the Sunday morning worship service.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the pewter chalice sold by the UUSC13 became popular among our churches, and virtually every congregation in the Greater Washington area owned at least one. At Cedar Lane Unitarian (now Unitarian Universalist) Church, a chalice was lighted in the children's chapel service in the late 1970s, and when the minister of religious education Elizabeth Anastos departed in 1980 she gave the congregation one of these chalices. It was not until the early 1990s that it became a regular part of the Sunday worship service, despite having been used in adult services on many occasions.14
In January of 1980 the Board of the UUA approved the formation of a Religious Education Futures Committee charged to, among other things, plan for programs that would satisfy the felt need of many Unitarian Universalists to "acquire a knowledge of and identify with the values, beliefs, and history of our traditions." The 1981 report of the committee includes these words:
A religious education program should enable people to identify themselves as members of a religious community. This means that curricula-which involve historical materials, worship, intergenerational celebrations, symbols, the arts, and stories-will embody and identify Unitarian Universalist principles so that children, youth, and adults can articulate and act upon these principles.
No part of the Futures Committee Report15 has been implemented to a greater extent than this. All curriculum materials published by the UUA since then have a strong emphasis on Unitarian Universalist identity and include lighting of chalices and the use of activities and crafts related to the flaming chalice. Development of the Renaissance Program for training of religious educators began in 1981 and one of the earliest modules developed for the program was the one on "Unitarian Universalist Identity."
That the lighting of chalices had assumed a larger role in religious education than in the religious movement at large may be seen by comparing the previous dates with two others. The first printed order from the Service of the Living Tradition, held each year at the UUA General Assembly, which includes the lighting of a chalice16 is that from 1988. The 1993 edition of The Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide includes in the section on "Our Worship," these words, absent from previous editions:
...a fire is often kindled in a wide-brimmed chalice. This ancient symbol of our living tradition reminds us that we are neither the first nor the last persons who so gather.
Further investigation can pinpoint more accurately the beginnings of actual lightings of candles or wicks in chalices in religious education classes, children's worship, and youth groups. Because printed orders of worship are not often used for children's and youth worship, researchers will need to gather planning notes, recollections, and snapshots. UUA REACH packets distributed prior to 1985 should be examined to glean information from materials shared by religious educators all over the continent. Close reading of curriculum materials developed and printed by congregations, districts, and the UUA from 1975 to 1985 could be fruitful in learning when certain practices became common. Historical records of the UUSC may be examined for information relating to the role played by this organization in promoting the flaming chalices for purposes other than the UUSC programs. The collection of documentation for anecdotal recollections of religious educators, clergy, and participants in the life of Unitarian Universalist churches might include examination of orders of worship, newsletters, and minutes of committees and governing boards.
Documentation that chalice lighting has occurred in classes and worship services in Unitarian Universalist churches during the past 25 or 30 years does not by itself prove that the flaming chalice has become a symbol rich with meaning to participants in the ritual. Here we turn to experiential reports. Unitarian Universalist religious educators who responded to a request on two electronic lists for information about the lighting of chalices in their experience responded not only with straightforward data, but more often with statements about the meaning of chalice lighting in their lives. Two examples:
I liked the chalices [used in Renaissance modules] and began including chalice lightings at committee meetings, and in the worship services we did outside of the main Sunday morning services for a group called GLO (Gay Lesbian Outreach) in the San Diego Church. These would have been in the early 1980s.
We used to light the chalice and say:
Blessed is the match consumed in the kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart's secret places.
Blessed is the heart with the courage to stop its beating for life's sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in the kindling flame.
I've since learned that Hanna Senesh wrote the original of this and we adapted it to the needs of the GLO group, at a time when we were all terribly frightened and not generally accepted by the congregation because of our sexual orientation. We did this chalice lighting at the first "out" worship service done by GLBT people at the Palm Springs GA. Thanks for asking.17

...my experience with my first chalice lighting was a revelation for me. As a young adult I worked as a studio potter. I was making hand built forms and had a strong interest in ancient vessels. I was drawn over and over again to those forms used in ritual and ceremony, particularly those that resembled stemmed bowls. I referred to those forms as chalices. The image they provided seemed to speak to a deepening and wholeness... while suggesting an offering. This became a religious symbol for me because it spoke to something innate and inherent to my sense of meaning years before I entered a Unitarian Universalist Church...in 1987. When the chalice was placed front and center and lit for the service I was elated. Here was a place whose religious imagery already spoke to me before any words were shared.18

1 His 1993 pamphlet was a revision of one written by John R. B. Szala in 1979.
2 The Journal article and the piece in the Unitarian Universalist World broke new ground by revealing that
the logo had been used on identification documents for refugees; other widely published accounts had indicated only that it was used on supplies and materials provided by the Unitarian Service Committee.
3 Order of service provided by Marjorie W. Skwire, minister of religious education at the church.
4 This booklet has no page numbers, so numbers have been assigned, beginning with the inside front cover as page 1. The quote about symbols appears on page 14; the pictures of churches referred to is on page 6.
5 The original main building (pictured) was not round, but rather octagonal. The intent, however, was to
have services "in the round." Source: materials published by the congregation 1963-1965.
6 Flaming chalice information and drawings of symbols may be found on pages five through nine.
7 This may be found on page 62 of the 1986 edition.
8 Pages 127-134. Curriculum developed by Betty Jo Middleton.
9 This conversation between Lucia Katherine Middleton and Megan Hay was overheard by the writer.
10 Kenneth Gordon Hurto was installed as parish minister and Betty Jo Middleton as minister of religious education.
11 In personal papers of the writer, who served this church 1982-1984. The planning notes contain names of teen readers.
12 This information was gleaned from the printed orders of service for the ordination of Ellen Fay Johnson in 1980, the ordination and installation of Betty Jo Middleton in 1983, the ordination of Linda Ann Hart in 1984, the installation of Sara Moores Campbell in 1986, the ordination of Elizabeth Miller Cox in 1990, the installation of Jack Young in 1992, and the installation of Jay Abernathy in 2000.
13 Ruth Ellen Gibson, minister of religious education, was a volunteer in the late 1970s in a church that had no budget for buying such a chalice, so, she writes, “we found some ice cream goblets in the kitchen and used one of them for children’s worship.”
14 Confirmed by conversations with Roger Fritts, senior minister, and Glenis Bellais, church member and long-time religious education administrator, and examination of printed orders of worship for selected years.
15 Published by the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1981.
16 The chalice was lighted by Silvio Nardoni and Til Evans, representing spouses of deceased ministers. The chalice was made by Robert Duprey, whose family spanned seven generations of membership in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brockton, Massachusetts.
17 This was a personal electronic communication from Helen Bishop. The year for this first “out” worship service she mentions is the same as that for the first lighting of a chalice in the Service of the Living Tradition.
18 This was a personal electronic communication from Lori Bernard [Staubitz]. The church she mentions is the Unitarian Universalist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.