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A handmade ceramic chalice

The Unitarian Universalist Chalice

As we slowly entered back into the building, I found myself first noticing the small things…the way the light entered the sanctuary through the windows, the sound of the ringing temple bell, and the chalice. As a person new to the UU faith a few years ago, I didn’t know anything about the chalice, and I didn’t have a reference point from my previous times in other churches. I enjoyed the words that accompanied the ritual of lighting and extinguishing the chalice, “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.”

We light the chalice at the beginning of our children’s programs, in meetings, and in worship. The chalice symbol is seen often in jewelry, shirts, and tattoos. But what did it really mean? Upon doing some research, (which you can find out more info here and here), I found that the flaming chalice at its most literal level represents our UU identity. Originally created during WWII for a group of Unitarians working together to help people escape danger from the Nazis, the chalice was a symbol of hope, strength, and safety. The chalice represented a cup, used for healing drink to others, and the flame represented helpfulness and sacrifice. In the early 1970s this became the official symbol of the Unitarian Universalists. 

But it wasn’t until I personally connected to the chalice that I felt the meaning. My mom passed away in a hospital room two years ago and Reverend Donna Dolham, our interim minister at the time, came to support the family. As Reverend Donna entered the room, she brought out a chalice with a flameless candle and said a comforting prayer as she lighted it. Confused about why she brought it, I asked why we were lighting the chalice. She explained that lighting the chalice together signals entry into a special, sacred space. A space that unites UUs together in love. I felt comfort in lighting the chalice in my darkest time knowing that others were holding me up.

Whether you are new to Unitarian Universalism, or are life-long practitioners, how do you connect to the chalice? What does our sacred symbol mean to you?

This is our chalice of love and of light, uniting UUs by day and by night.

— Marisa Abbe, DUUF board president

Photo credit: Marisa Abbe