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Circles of Light

Janeen K. Grohsmeyer, adapted from the story, “Circles of Light: The Flaming Chalice”

In the dark nights and the darker days of World War II, guns blazed all over Europe and airplanes dropped death from the sky. Many people tried to escape from the war. These people were called refugees.

Some Unitarians in the United States decided to help the refugees and formed the Unitarian Service Committee. The committee members went to Europe to try to bring refugees safely out of the war. But the refugees came from many different countries. They spoke many different languages, like German, or Yiddish, or French, or Italian, or Polish, or Hungarian.  Most of the refugees did not speak English. Most of the Unitarian committee members spoke only English. How could the Unitarians explain they were there to help? It was difficult for the refugees to understand them.

Dr. Charles Joy was in charge of the committee. He knew that the Unitarians needed a symbol everyone could recognize, no matter what language they spoke. It would have to be a picture, a symbol with no words. That way, anyone could understand the message: “We are here to help you.”

Dr. Joy asked an artist named Hans Deutsch for help. Maybe an artist could draw the right kind of picture that could be a symbol for the Unitarians. The two men met in Portugal. Mr. Deutsch understood why a picture would be helpful. He had come from Austria. But now he was a refugee, because of the war. In Portugal, people speak Portuguese. Mr. Deutsch was used to speaking German.

Mr. Deutsch made a drawing of a chalice with a flame, surrounded by a circle. He showed it to Dr. Joy. The symbol really worked. Soon refugees all over Europe began to see this symbol wherever the Unitarian Service Committee went to find and help them. When refugees saw the picture of a chalice, a flame, and a circle around the chalice that looked like it was protecting it, they knew they could trust the committee members. They did not need to speak English, or even know how to read, to understand the symbol. The picture gave the message of hope, freedom, and love that the refugees were looking for.

After the war was over, Unitarians began using the flaming chalice and its circle as a symbol in worship. Later, the Universalists joined the Unitarians to form the Unitarian Universalist Association and people started to draw the symbol with two circles, instead of one. One circle is for the Unitarians and one circle is for the Universalists. The circles are so close together that they overlap. The circles are connected, just as Unitarian Universalists believe that all of us are connected to one another.

The chalice is not in the exact middle of the circle. It is almost like the chalice has moved over to let something else come into the circle. This reminds us that as Unitarian Universalists, we always leave room for other ideas and other ways. There is always room for more in Unitarian Universalism.

We, as Unitarian Universalists, have all kinds of chalices. We light a chalice on Sunday morning in worship, and at other times when we gather in our faith home together. Some family homes use chalices during meals or on special occasions. Chalices come in lots of different shapes, sizes, and colors, just like Unitarian Universalists.

The flaming chalice is a faith symbol for the Unitarian Universalists. It is a symbol of learning, caring, and love. It is a symbol of hope, freedom, and light. It is our faith home symbol.

For more information contact web@uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, May 17, 2013.

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