Ceremony unites variety of faiths Candles illuminate WMC service


December 13, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The three banners, hanging behind the altar at Western Maryland College's Baker Memorial Chapel, depicted religious symbols: the Star of David, Greek letters for alpha and omega and Christian images of bread and wine.

During the college's annual Service of Lights Friday, participants prayed that all of those symbols would merge into one image of unity.

Singing "O Come All Ye Faithful," the college choir filed in between poinsettias and Christmas trees, decorated with golden lights and ornaments. The singers led the congregation in other traditional Christmas music, which was signed for the hearing impaired.

"We have come to celebrate together our diverse holy days," said The Rev. Mark Lancaster, WMC's chaplain, to about 150 worshipers. Many adults had joined students gathered for the college's traditional end-of-semester service.

"As we recognize the real unifying pieces in all religions, we try tofind the common bases for understanding each other's traditions," he said.

Before the service began, Mr. Lancaster took a few carol requests from the pulpit. "As long as it's in our hymnal, the choir will do it for you," he promised.

Words and music for the first request, "O Holy Night," were nowhere in those pages.

"If you'd like, we would entertain a solo," he said with a laugh. The student hastily declined.

The chaplain explained the symbols placed on the altar: a Jewish menorah, a Christian Advent wreath, Kwanza candles from the African tradition and the Baha'is' seven candles of unity.

"The brightest candles burn in the assemblage of man," said Jim Booth, reading from traditional Baha'i writings.

Students lit the candles on all four symbols during the service to show light as a common thread in all religion.

"In many ways, we are more alike than we are different," said Mr. Lancaster. "Let us celebrate our diversity and hold up as good the traditions of love and light from which we come."

Freshman Leanne Godwin led the opening prayer to the "Lord God, sovereign of the universe, the essence of the light that draws us to this place, hoping for unity."

Holding a dreidel, Rachelle Feldman then told the story of Hanukkah. Kari Hoffman intoned the prayer for lighting the menorah candles in Hebrew, while Aaron Rosen lit them from right to left followed by the choir's rendition of "Light the Legend."

Jennifer Veteto read of the birth of Christ from the gospel according to Luke, which the choir followed with "Ave Maria." Three students explained the significance of the five Advent candles. "The Christ candle is in the center, to show our lives are centered to God," said Jennifer Johnson.

Renee Bartley spoke of Kwanza, the feast of first fruits, rooted in the"rich traditions" of African Americans as Karen Downs and Quiana Pollard lit the seven Kwanza candles with a flame from the menorah. "Help restore our people to traditional greatness," prayed Kelly Gibson.

Four children lit the Baha'i seven candles of unity as Mr. Booth read from Baha'i texts. "We are all members of the human family and increasingly we are becoming interdependent," said Mr. Booth. "May the power and kingdom of God aid and assist in the realization of unity."

Mr. Lancaster said he was humbled and honored to be a part of the service.

The service concluded with the chapel illuminated only by the altar candles. The building was aglow in soft, flickering candlelight as student ushers walked among the celebrants and lit candles given to everyone at the start of the service. "God draws us all into the heart of lightness," said Mr. Lancaster. "Our traditions exist to shine God's light into the human community. ,, May you bring your own light to the world around you."

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