The Rev. Donald Keller, pastor of Scottsville UMC, brought a lasting gift of light to the Eastern PA Conference Office Feb. 6; and it shines still, more than a week later, adorning the building’s lobby reception area.
Keller presented to Bishop Peggy Johnson the Bethlehem Peace Light, a long-burning candle that honors a long history as well. The flame comes from the famous grotto in Bethlehem, Palestine, where it is believed Jesus Christ was born.
The grotto is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity. The elaborate decorations there include a silver star surrounded by 15 lamps burning offering an eternal flame. Above the grotto stands the Church of the Nativity, the oldest major church in the Holy Land and a popular tourist site.
About 30 years ago, Boy Scouts from northern Austria began a yearly practice of “fetching” a light from the burning lamps each fall and sharing that flame in lanterns and candles across Europe to symbolize unity and peace. Following the tragic U.S. terrorist atrocity that occurred Sept. 11, 2001, the light was brought to Ground Zero in New York City to offer a message of support and solidarity between the children of Europe and those in the U.S. and Canada.
The annual trans-Atlantic trek has continued since, with the flame being carried inside a special mining lamp on an Austrian Airlines plane, Keller said. Now numerous volunteers greet the light in New York City and light their wicks from it to share at other locations around the U.S.
One stop is Bensalem Presbyterian Church, where the flame arrived Dec. 1, 2018. There members of Scottsville UMC greeted and received part of the Nativity flame to display in their sanctuary chancel area during the Christian seasons of Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany.
Keller offered to share the Bethlehem Peace Light’s flame by lighting one long-burning candle and bringing another to be displayed continuously at the Conference Office, especially during this difficult time of prayer and concern for the future of our denomination. The two candles, lit consecutively, should last about 22 days total, eight days for the first and 14 days for the second.
Visitors to the Conference Office are invited to read the story displayed with the candles (much of it repeated here) and to offer a prayer in the spirit of Christ’s appeal for love and unity among his followers.