RE News and Events

Religious Education Corner

RE Corner                                                                                June 2014

One of the comments from our religious education teachers that I love to hear is: "I learned so much about Unitarian Universalism by teaching in my class."  Quite possibly your children know more about Unitarian Universalist Identity than you do.  Recently, at the UU Metro NY annual meeting, I participated in a workshop on "The Stories We Live In ..."  The workshop leaders, both ministers, talked about the stories in this amazing faith that we are living.  I wanted to share one with you today: the story of our chalice. At the opening of Unitarian Universalist worship services, many congregations light a flame inside a chalice. This flaming chalice has become a well-known symbol of our denomination. It unites our members in worship and symbolizes the spirit of our work.

The flaming chalice combines two archetypes—a drinking vessel and a flame—and as a religious symbol has different meanings to different beholders.  A chalice is a sort of fancy cup and it is an ancient Greek symbol for wisdom and good fortune. Sharing, generosity, sustenance, and love are some of the meanings symbolized by a chalice. A flame can symbolize witness, sacrifice, testing, courage, and illumination. The flaming chalice symbol, we all know it, was designed by Hans Deutsch, during World War II.   Hans had fled Nazi Germany to France, then Spain, and finally Portugal. Here he began working with the Unitarian Service Committee to help refugees find food, shelter, clothing, medical assistance, and escape dangerous situations.  The Unitarian Service Organization asked him to design a symbol that would be recognized as a sign of help available to people based on their need and not their religion or race.  He came up with the flaming chalice inside a circle, borrowed from an old symbol of strength and freedom from Czechoslovakia.  The flame symbolized the light of mercy and hope, and the circle meant all were included. The flaming chalice design was made into a seal for papers and a badge for agents moving refugees to freedom. In time it became a symbol of Unitarian Universalism all around the world.

Now the flaming chalice means the light of hope, the light of freedom to those deprived of freedom, and the light of truth to those seeking it.  Surrounding the light is the circle – where truth, freedom, and mercy are dependent upon one another within the circle of human life. Today, the flaming chalice is the official symbol of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Association. Officially or unofficially, it functions as a logo for hundreds of congregations. Perhaps most importantly, it has become a focal point for worship. No one meaning or interpretation is official. The flaming chalice, like our faith, stands open to receive new truths that pass the tests of reason, justice, and compassion. (information from the UUA web site)

Chalices can be found today in many different places.  Our district executive, Andrea Lerner, has a hobby of finding chalices in everyday life.  She finds them in the carpeting and draperies, in her bowl of oatmeal and her dessert in the evening. The UUA bookstore sells them as chocolate candies, posters, bookmarks, patches, jewelry and so much more.  Become a Religious Education leader and learn more about the history and identity of this wonderful faith.

There are religious education leader openings at every age level. For job descriptions or for more information, contact Gretta Johnson-Sally, the Director of Religious Education. ()