A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Extinguishing the Christmas Eve Candlelights

Many years ago, I knew a pastor in a real small town at a desolate intersection of highway, who had a real nasty encounter with the local fire department over a candlelighting service that was planned for Christmas Eve. His predecessor served as a volunteer firefighter and at one time had even been the fire chief. During his tenure as pastor, the church never had a candlelighting service because it violated fire regulations. When the new pastor arrived, he decided to have a candlelighting service since almost every church in America has one. That is when he encountered the fire department.

He was told by the chief at the time that under no circumstances was his church having a Christmas Eve candlelighting service, and he responded in no uncertain terms that they indeed were going to light candles. A stand-off ensued. In a compromise, the firefighters said they would relent if a couple of them were permitted to stand in the back of the sanctuary in full gear with fire extinguishers in case there was a problem. The pastor agreed, but when Christmas Eve came, no one from the fire department showed up. I suppose they decided that it wasn't worth the time.

I tell this story to make two points: First, candlelighting services on Christmas Eve are a critical part of the Christmas celebration and have been for centuries Frankly, no authority has any right to countermand such a tradition. The pastor was right for standing his ground.

Second, having said that, the potential for danger and disaster at a candlelighting service with many open candle flames side-by-side and moving from front to back should be obvious. It is therefore absolutely essential that every effort be made to make those holy moments of worship as safe as possible. Just prior to the service of candlelighting, I always give instructions for how to pass the flame throughout the sanctuary. (e.g. Always tip an unlighted candle to receive the flame, never tip a lighted one to give the flame. And be careful of the long hair of the person sitting in front of you!) Most Christmas Eve candlelighting services violate a municipalitie's fire codes, but fire departments, knowing the importance of such services, simply look the other way. But the concern of the fire chief those many years ago in that little hamlet was genuine and well-founded.

So, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Eve celebration this year in worship and in light. A little caution and concern in the process will also help to make it a safe one.


doodlebugmom said...

I remember a jr high girl with hair on fire at service one, oh man did that smell bad!

Stay safe!

Allan R. Bevere said...

DBMom: Many years ago some guy was horsing around and set his bulletin on fire while we were singing "Silent Night." Everyone around kept singing with a watchful eye. He did manage to put it out. If you would have known him, you would not have been surprised.

revjimparsons said...

I have only seen two people's hair get singed. The fact that we don't hear news stories about churches burning to the ground on Christmas Eve is a testament to the seriousness and care many take during this beautiful service.

I had one congregation that was thinking of not doing it because of new carpet. They changed their minds and some people were out there with wax paper and irons later picking up the little bits of wax that did fall.

Good post, thanks.

Country Parson said...

I'm on both sides of this issue. Our congregation used candles on Christmas Eve and the Great Vigil of Easter, but I had extra fire extinguishers stashed here and there, including one in the pulpit with me. Some singed teenage hair now and then, but otherwise never a problem.
CP (also WWFD)

Greg Golden said...

Would Palin say say,"burn baby burn"?