Tree of Life Chalice

The flaming chalice is the symbol of Unitarian Universalism. In years past ERUUF had a large, pottery chalice in the sanctuary. It had a beautiful pale turquoise glaze and was filled with sand so the oil lamp sat at the right height. Though beautiful, it was heavy and awkward. One Sunday morning a few years ago, as the furniture was quickly being rearranged from a performance the night before, the podium with the chalice hit a bump on the floor. It stopped suddenly but the chalice was in motion and flew off the stand and shattered when it hit the ground.

Everyone was horrified. People cleaned up and we grabbed a chalice out of my office and set it up “temporarily” just before the service began. “Temporary” stretched much longer than anticipated.

Almost a year ago, the Coordinating Team appointed a Chalice Team and asked them to find a new chalice for this space. Team members are Peter Aiken, Judith Hollowood, Tucker McKinney, Daphne Rhodes, Roy Tuckett and most recently Mary Etta Goes. Collectively these folks have a strong sense of aesthetics and a thorough understanding of UU traditions.

They’ve had a comprehensive and thoughtful process—they assessed how the sanctuary is used not only on Sunday but also by many different groups and people throughout the week; they realized that the pulpits and furnishings are moved quite often. They noted that we have different banners and change them regularly. They researched the meaning of the chalice and thought carefully about placement in various locations, and how it needs to be visible from all over the sanctuary. They thought about potential materials—wood, glass, pottery, metal—and how each would relate to the aesthetics of this space. They thought carefully about safety.

They created a prospectus and put out a request for proposals to all area artists who might be interested in making us a chalice. They wrote a grant and asked the Fellowship’s Foundation to fund this major project, and the Foundation agreed. After all this success they ran into a few unexpected developments. 

The Tree of Life Chalice 

When a new member joined the team, she brought forward a possibility that everyone immediately recognized as very special. She hunted down the artist who had created the chalice in her former congregation that is like the one that's used at GA. It consists of an actual oil lamp cast out of bronze. It’s surrounded by two circles that represent Unitarianism and Universalism. The stem is the tree of life, and leaves uphold the vessel.

The design and original mold for this chalice were created by a man named Mordecai Roth, who grew up Jewish and later became UU. Roth experienced significant anti-Semitism while growing up, and he fought in WWII. Afterward, he became a dentist, and upon his retirement, he became a sculptor. Over 132 UU congregations have one of his chalices, including many of our largest congregations.

This tree of life chalice has powerful connections to both our UU history and current events. It evokes our love for the earth in a time when we’re waking up to climate change. It evokes our commitment to equity and inclusion as we’re witnessing atrocities being waged against migrants and refugees at our own borders. It reminds us that people are too precious to be caught and ground down by the power of governments. And that individuals with power are called to look around and notice where they need to make room, starting within their own hearts. As always, UUs are called to make the circle wider, more inclusive and equitable.

This Tree of Life chalice has been accepted by the Coordinating Team with gratitude. We ordered the Roth chalices in three sizes (for use around campus). The two smaller ones have arrived and we look forward to receiving the large tree of life chalice and using it in the sanctuary.

Many thanks to the Chalice Team members for their terrific work, and to the Foundation for funding this significant project.