Chalice Lighters – Lighting Our Chalice, Tending the Flame

As Unitarian Universalists (UU’s), why do we light a chalice?  When do we do it, and what does it mean?  Who gets to light the chalice?  Can anyone?

Here at UUSGS, we want everyone who wants to light a chalice to be able to do so.  Even – and especially – in worship.  Unitarians and Universalists have for centuries believed that each and every person contains within them the spark of the Divine, the light of truth.  Every person has inherent worth & dignity; therefore, any person can light our chalice.

However… before we do so lightly, it is important to emphasize just how important this simple activity is in the life of our community.  The chalice has an important history.  The chalice is a symbol of some of our most deeply held shared values.  The chalice draws us together into depth and care.  

OK, maybe this simple act of lighting the chalice isn’t so simple after all…

The Flaming Chalice – Our History:

A flame within a chalice (that is, a cup with a stem and foot) is an important symbol in Unitarian Universalism. Hans Deutsch, an Austrian artist and refugee, first brought together the chalice and the flame as a Unitarian symbol during his work with the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II. To Deutsch, the chalice symbolized sacrifice and love in an image whose meaning was both current and ancient, and one that spans many faith traditions.  UU’s today have many different interpretations of the flaming chalice, including: the light of reason, the warmth of community, and the flame of hope.  (More info at

The Flaming Chalice – Our Practice:

Today, most UU congregations light a chalice to begin their communal worship.  This lighting joins those gathered in a common act.  It invites each and every person to come in, to be a part of something larger.  That flame – and the act of lighting it – also connects us to the web of UU congregations throughout the world.   

“Think about yourself as a container.  Sometimes life can feel too big for just you to hold.  Too many feelings for just your little container, right?  A larger container – a larger vessel – is needed.  This is as true of human biology as it is of human spirituality: we need one another.  Lighting a chalice is one way we can access a larger container.  We join with others the way a glass of water joins with the ocean.  By lighting a chalice, sometimes what was filling me up inside isn’t just mine to carry any more.”     — Rev. Jason Seymour

Lighting a chalice is one way to honor and to create space for what we do as a community: the transformations, the support, the healing, the inspiration.  Lighting a chalice is an invocation, which means it is done symbolically to invoke (or “call to mind”) our common values.

When else might UU’s light a chalice then, other than for worship?  Chalice lightings are often important at the beginning of small group ministry, or whenever a difficult or important conversation might occur.  Many UU’s light chalices at home, perhaps on a table during a meal, perhaps on a personal altar as a part of a regular practice.  During the pandemic, lighting chalices together was an especially important way that individual community members could connect – and stay connected – by doing something symbolic together.  Whether you are by yourself, in a small group, or joined with hundreds of others… lighting a chalice is a reminder that we can always ground ourselves in our deepest values, and that the larger vessel is always there for us.



If so…