We Are Keepers, Bearers, and Builders of the Flame

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This past Sunday, my family and I led our Unitarian congregation in a community ritual intended to celebrate the different ways we live out our Unitarian Universalist Values.

As congregants came into the sanctuary, they were given one of three cards which read “Keeper of the Flame”, “Bearer of the Flame”, or “Builder of the Flame”. Each of these designated a type of ministry. The Keepers of the Flame are those focused on creating a spiritual sanctuary from a harsh world. The Bearers of the Flame are those who carry the light of UU values out into the world through social action. The Builders of the Flame are the glue that hold it all together.

We positioned the “chalice” oil lamp at the front of the sanctuary, representing the spiritual heart of our community.  We placed pictures on the doors on the back wall  of the sanctuary leading outside, depicting famous activists and Unitarians engaged in social action.  This represented our work outside the walls of the church.

The “Keepers of the Flame” formed a semi circle around the oil lamp, holding sacred space.  The “Bearers of the Flame” lit vigil candles on the oil lamp at the front of the sanctuary and processed to the back of the sanctuary, where a fan blew their flame out, whereupon they returned to relight their candles, again and again in a circle.  Then we introduced the “Builders of the Flame”, who acted as a bridge between the Keepers and Bearers, forming a chain between the oil lamp at the front of the sanctuary and the  doors leading outside.

After the service, someone pointed out to me that we had unintentionally made the shape of a chalice, the symbol of Unitarian Universalism, with the Keepers forming a semi circle in the front of the sanctuary, and a line of Builders leading down the center aisle, connecting to the Bearers who were lined up against the back wall.  (I wish we had gotten an overhead picture from the balcony.)

We concluded facing one another in a large circle around the periphery of the sanctuary and extinguished our candles ritually.

Below are some of the words I read during the service and the words to the hymns we sang.

Opening Words

Today’s service will be a meditation on what we do well as a church. As Unitarian Univeralists, we can hardly be just one thing. At First Unitarian Church of Hobart we are doing many things well.  We are a spiritual sanctuary from a harsh world.  We are beacon of hope for an unjust world.  We are a community of people bonded together in fellowship.  We are all of this and more.

Keepers of the Flame

[Strike singing bowl x 3]

Please join us in a spirit of reverence as we move into our community ritual.

First Unitarian Church of Hobart is many things.  We are a spiritual sanctuary from a harsh world.

We invite those of you who have a blue slip of paper, which says “Keeper of the Flame”, to follow W. to the front of the chapel and form a semi-circle facing the pulpit.

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Now will the whole congregation please join us as we light the chalice, the words are printed on the back of your insert.

“We gather this hour
As people of faith
With joys and sorrows
Gifts and needs.
We light this beacon of hope
Sign of our quest for truth and meaning
In celebration of the life we share together.”

We are Keepers of the Flame. We must sometimes turn our backs to the world in order to protect our flame.  And in so doing, we make a sanctuary for those whose hearts have been wounded by harsh words or merciless deeds, and whose minds are troubled by the buffeting winds of change. Here, we make a place of rest, peace, and healing, shielding each other with our bodies and our spirits.

As the Keepers of the Flame hold this sacred space, we will listen to the song “When I Breathe In” by Sarah Dan Jones. We ask the whole congregation to please join her in singing the refrain. The words of the refrain are printed in your insert.

“When I breathe in,
I breathe in peace.
When I breathe out,
I breathe out love.”

Bearers of the Flame

[Strike singing bowl x 1]

First Unitarian Church of Hobart is many things.  We are also a beacon of hope for an unjust world.

We ask the Keepers of the Flame to continue to hold sacred space for the rest of the ritual.  Focus your intent on keeping the chalice flame burning bright so that others may borrow from it.

We ask the Keepers of the Flame to part down the middle so others may approach the chalice. And please turn to face the congregation.

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We are also bearers of the flame.  We carry the light from our sanctuary out into the harsh world so that we may also be a beacon of hope to an unjust world.  But the winds of the harsh world buffet our flames and then they are extinguished.  So we must continually return back to our spiritual home to renew our souls at the center of our community, before carrying our light out into the world again.

We now invite those of you with a red slip of paper, which says “Bearer of the Flame”, to come forward and form a line behind K..

And as you come forward, take a candle from W., light it from the chalice, then walk slowly to the back of the chapel, hold it over the threshold or doorway.  When your flame is extinguished by the wind, return to the front of the chapel to relight your candle.

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As the Bearers of the Flame continue carrying their light into the world, we will hear the song “Here Comes the Change” by Kesha. We invite the entire congregation to join her in singing the chorus. The words are printed in your insert.

“Here comes the change.
We’re comin’ of age.
This is not a phase.
Here comes, here comes,
the change.”

Builders of the Flame

[Strike singing bowl x 1]

Please pause where you are.

First Unitarian Church of Hobart is many things.  We are also a community of people bonded together in fellowship.

We now invite Bearers of the Flame please join K. along the back wall of the chapel.

The journey out into the world from our sacred sanctuary can be a long one.  And for the Bearers of the Flame, it may sometimes seem that a great chasm is separating them from their spiritual home. Meanwhile, for the Keepers of the Flame, it may sometimes seem that their fellow congregants have gone so far into the world as to strain the connection to the community.

This is why we need the Builders of the Flame those who do the quiet work of the church, which often goes appreciated. But without these Builders, the Keepers would not have a sanctuary and the Bearers would not have a flame to carry out into the world. The Builders keep things flowing smoothly and they bring people together in community.

We now invite those of you with a yellow slip of paper, which says “Builder of the Flame”, to come forward.  Form two lines down the aisle facing each other.

Down one side you will pass the lighted candle.  And up the other side you will pass the extinguished candle to be lit again at the chalice.

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We invite everyone to sing together our hymn “Building Bridges”. The words are printed in your inserts. We will repeat this verse until I signal it is the last time.

“Building bridges,
Between our divisions,
I reach out for you,
Will you reach out to me?
With all of our voices
And all of our visions,
Friends, we can make such sweet harmony.”

We are all of this and more.

[Strike singing bowl x 1]

Please pause where you are.

First Unitarian Church of Hobart is many things.  We are a spiritual sanctuary from a harsh world.  We are beacon of hope for an unjust world.   We are a community of people bonded together in fellowship.  We are all of these and more.

Some of us are Keepers of the Flame.  Some of us are Bearers of the Flame.  And some of us are Builders of the Flame.  But these are not fixed roles.  We are each of us called at different times and different ways to be Keepers, Bearers, and Builders of the Flame.  We step into these roles when we see a need.  The movement can be chaotic at times, but that is the nature of all life, including the life of a congregation.

It may be tempting to associate these roles with specific ministries or committees in the church, but all three of these roles contribute to all three of our mission pillars: Growing Spiritually, Living our Values, and Building Community. For example, some of us find our community attending the Sunday worship service or in Spirit Circle or marching in the Fourth of July parade.  Some of us find spirituality in serving at the Cafe Agape soup kitchen or in the Faith-in-Action ministry.  And some of us live our values through serving as a greeter or preparing coffee hour or attending the Zen Circle.

We now invite everyone, Keepers, Bearers, and Builder to form a circle around the outside walls.

Now when I signal you will begin to move slowly in a counterclockwise fashion.  As you move around the chalice light your candles until everyone’s candle is lit.

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We invite everyone to sing together the first verse of our hymn “Break Not the Circle”. The words are printed in your inserts. We will repeat this verse until I signal it is the last time.

“Break not the circle of enabling love,
Where people grow, forgiven and forgiving;
Break not that circle, make it wider still,
Till it includes, embraces all the living.”

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[Strike singing bowl x 3]

Extinguishing the chalice.

Please remain where you are, while W., R., and K. join me at the chalice.

Please join us as we extinguish the chalice.  As we blow out the chalice, you may blow out your own candles.  The words are printed on the back of your insert.

“We extinguish this flame,
But not the light of truth,
The warmth of community,
Or the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts
Until we are together again.”

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