WESTMINSTER — For a few moments Friday night, the only light in Baker Chapel came from the white bulbs on the Christmas trees, the altar candles and the candles held carefully by the congregation.
Despite the blackness and coldness of the night, the high-ceilinged sanctuary glowed withthe flickering candlelight and warmth of a group of people at peace.
The annual December Service of Lights at Western Maryland Collegeserves a twofold purpose, said coordinators of the event.
"It's an annual event for the last night of classes for the fall semester," said Joanne Goldwater, director of housing. "And it's a way to celebrate the season and its diversity.
"We bring together both the religious and secular of different faiths and we invite all of Westminster. It's just a nice way to end the year."
The Rev. Mark Lancaster,coordinator of campus religious life, opened the service with a responsive greeting, followed by the hymn, "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."
"A Prayer for the Night" was a plea from the students for release from the anxiety and turmoil of months of study.
"This is a time of enrichment and enjoyment, a time to come together as a family, when we are weary and seek some peace in our lives from the hectic pace," Lancaster said.
The College Choir then raised its voices in "Hanukkah, O Hanukkah," "Jesu Dolcis Memoria" and "Beautiful Savior."
Then came a highlight of the service: two stories of people who said they succeeded, with the help of God, to overcome oppression.
Rachelle Feldman told the congregation of the Jewish people's struggle for freedom from the Syrians and how the children used the dreidel --a four-sided top -- to keep the soldiers from finding out how they learned Hebrew.
"Alexander the Great allowed the Jews to practice
their faith, but when he died, Antiochus took over and forbade the Jews to have anything to do with Judaism," she said.
"The childrenwere even forbidden to learn Hebrew, so when the soldiers came into their homes, they picked up the dreidel and spun it, pretending to play with it as a game."
After the Jews won their freedom from Syria, they returned to their defiled temple, only to find everything but one bottle of oil destroyed.
"They knew that one bottle would not last eight days until they could make more oil to burn in the temple," Feldman said. "So they used one drop of oil for the first night, and when they returned the second night, the oil was still burning . . ."
That single drop of oil burned for eight nights, Feldman said.
"They decided then that Hanukkah should be a holiday to show how God helped save the Jews, and it became the Festival of Lights," she said.
The second story came from Rosemary Maxey, a Muscogee (Creek)Indian and teacher of religious studies at WMC.
She spoke about how the Muscogees were forced by the government to relocate from the South to Oklahoma following their defeat by Andrew Jackson in the Creek War of 1813-1814.
Many Indians died along the journey, the Trailof Tears.
Prior to the forced journey, the "Creeks' creator" had provided them with fire to warm their food and homes, she said. The tribe then appointed a fire keeper to protect their source of heat.
"The fire keeper keeps the central fire and every fall he gives the people a new amber to take home to warm their food and shelter," Maxey said. "Eventually, the tribe was removed to Oklahoma, through the Trail of Tears, and not even the wide river (Mississippi) they had to cross could extinguish their light."
The "hereditary position" of fire keeper handing out the amber each fall continues to this day, she said.
Following the stories, the college's Sounds of Silence group performed "White Christmas" in sign language. WMC's deaf educationprogram is internationally acclaimed, and a sign language interpreter provided signing for the entire service.
The lighting of the candles on the altar recognized four faiths around the world: the Adventcandles for Christians; the Menorah of the Jews; the Kwanzaa of the African Americans, just begun in the late 1960s; and the Seven Candles of Unity of the Baha'i.
As the candles were lighted, a reader explained what each represented to that faith. Then the congregation's candles were lighted as everyone sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth."
As they left the chapel, many of the students greeted each other with hugs and smiles.
After the service, there was a reception in Decker Hall, where students mingled one last time before heading home for the holidays.
With every step I take,
Let this be my solemnvow:
To take each moment
and live each moment
in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me.
-- Traditional hymn