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Chalice Lighter Program Helps Dreams Come True

The idea Alan Egly had in the early 1980s, that many Unitarian Universalists (UUs) might be willing to contribute $10 occasionally to help a congregation that needed a boost, was a good one.

Egly's idea, implemented in 1984 in the Prairie Star District through the district's Extension Committee, of which Egly was a part, became known as the Chalice Lighters program and has spread to other Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) districts. In the past five years it has raised more than $2 million.

The idea is simple. Ask individual UUs if they'd be willing to contribute $10 or more up to three times a year to help a congregation in their district complete a special project linked to growth. Egly adapted the concept from another denomination. "It's not a completely original idea, but I'm proud to claim it."

In the Prairie Star district, Chalice Lighter calls raised about $17,500 last year from five hundred UUs. The Joseph Priestly District raises the most money, $100,000 annually from 3,500 Chalice Lighters. The district has a Chalice Lighter Sunday every other year, gaining 500 to 1,000 new participants each time. Also, a team from the Main Line Unitarian Church, Devon, PA (695), personally solicits members of each congregation.

Chalice Lighter projects generally consist of helping congregations call a minister or construct a building or addition. Other purposes are to establish a new congregation or support campus ministry. Rules vary by district. Participants may, of course, contribute more than $10 each time if they wish, and many do. More than 10,000 UUs are Chalice Lighters.

The UU Community Church of Glen Allen, VA (225 members), in the Thomas Jefferson District, has received three Chalice Lighter grants since 1994 totaling $44,000. The first grant enabled it to call its first minister. The second helped it purchase land. The third helped pay for its first building.

"Without a doubt those grants made our congregation and our building possible," says Leslie Trew, a former moderator of the congregation. "It put us over the top in our own efforts to call a minister, buy land, and build a building. We knew what we wanted to do, and these grants helped make it possible."

The UU Fellowship of Transylvania (County), Brevard, NC, also benefited from a Chalice Lighter grant. A group of twenty or so retirees formed a fellowship in 1999 in the mostly Baptist area, says Margaret Baucus. Today it has fifty members. "That's more than the UUA thought we could do," says Baucus.

The growth was helped by a Thomas Jefferson District Chalice Lighter call that raised $16,688 in 2000. The congregation used part of the money for advertising, to send someone to General Assembly, and to send many others to regional leadership workshops.

"Those workshops gave us a lot of ideas and pumped us up," says Baucus. The fellowship just called a part-time minister and is hoping to move out of its rented room into a building with room for a religious education program.

Resources

For information on how to participate in the Chalice Lighter program contact your district office.

Volunteers are also needed to spread the word about the Chalice Lighter program in their individual congregations, including distributing brochures, making pulpit announcement, and signing up members.

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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