The International Peace Light
By: Rev. Rebecca Mihm
What Is It?
Each year Austrian scouts go to Bethlehem, Israel, to the eternal flame at the grotto at the traditional birthplace of Jesus. They light several lanterns and take the light back to Austria. Then, after sharing the light with people in Europe, Austrian Airlines transports three lanterns with the light to JFK airport in New York City, where a large peace ceremony takes place with religious leaders and Boy scouts. The light then is shared all over North America for peace ceremonies and worship services. Often people think the light is similar to the Olympic torch, which one person carries at a time. However, the International Peace Light is shared so that after one person shares the light, two people have it. When two people share the light, then four people have it. Then 16, etc.
FPC Clarion Is Getting It
First Presbyterian Church of Clarion plans to obtain the light this year and use it for our Christmas Eve service (and perhaps a few other Advent worship services). That means, when we sing “Silent Night” with candles this year, we will be holding the light that traveled from the birthplace of Jesus, from person to person, to us. We will hold the light, which is symbolic. We will hold a symbol of the message of “peace on earth” as well.
Would You Like It, too?
If you would like to get the light, you can! However, you will want to prepare to transport an open flame. You will want to have two people transport the light, one to drive and one to watch the light. The best carriers for a light are lanterns or covered candles (to protect from wind and water). UCO lanterns for candles are great short-distance transporters for the light. You can buy them on Amazon. Whatever plan you choose, please remember that open flames are dangerous. To find locations where the light will be and when, go to https://www.peacelightnorthamerica.org.
Parallels our faith
I had learned of the light from the United Church of Bernardston in Massachusetts. When I moved to West Virginia, I wanted to enjoy the light/story again. So, I found out how I could obtain the light. I had to drive to New Stanton, PA, very late one night to get the light from a man who drives the light from NYC to Nebraska, then back to Massachusetts, making stops all along the way to share the light. People from different churches and scouting groups met him in the parking lot of a motel off the interstate. After obtaining the light, I quickly learned that maintaining the light was no small task. An open flame needs constant attention; you don’t want to ignore it. The flame could burn up something. Also, because I was the only person in West Virginia with the light, and I hoped to share it with as many people as they wanted, I had to ensure it didn’t go out. So, I kept a lantern and a candle constantly lit and within eyeshot from every place I went. It cost me money, time, and energy. What do I do when I need to go somewhere the light is not welcome? You can’t bring an open flame into a hospital or nursing home due to flammable oxygen tanks. What do I do when it’s raining or windy? Is there enough oil for the lantern to stay lit overnight?
The light was a burden, but I realized that the more I was inconvenienced by the light, the more meaningful the light became to me. The joy of sharing the light was powerful. I continually got creative thoughts about how and when, and where I could share the light—worship services, peace talks, reconciliations, to light someone’s day. I thought of how youth groups and scouting groups could use the light. I learned from others ways to keep/use/maintain the light. And I realized that the light is similar to our faith. It’s meaningful, joyful, has a message of peace, takes sacrifice, etc.
The first year I had the light in West Virginia, I had to travel to a Presbytery meeting 4 hours away. The meeting was a 6-hour meeting. Then I would have to drive back. To be alert with the light that long seemed too risky, so I decided to get a hotel room for the night. I called ahead to make a reservation, and before hanging up, I said, “Oh, by the way, I’ll have the International Peace Light with me. Will that be a problem?” “Yes, ma’am,” the reservationist said. They had a policy that forbade open flames. So, I responded, “Are you telling me there is no room at the inn for the light from Bethlehem?” She apologized, and we hung up. That call energized me, so I called ALL the hotels/motels/inns in the area, speaking with some of their security teams to be told: “no flame” from all of them. There was a sheep farm down the road I emailed. I didn’t want to sleep in the snow outside with the sheep, but I would have to make this story great. However, the Presbytery meeting was moved to a city that was only 2 hours away from my home, so I didn’t need a motel room.
The first time the Peace Light came to the USA was after 9/11. Canadian scouts brought it to Ground Zero in New York City.
If you are interested in more information about the International Peace Light, you can visit their Facebook page: Peace Light – North America, or their website: https://www.peacelightnorthamerica.org.
Below you will also find a link to the article published by the Synod of the Trinity with more details about the International Peace Light.