Teacup Votives

In the Episcopal Church (and in others), we do not simply throw away what has been blessed. There’s more than one sermon I could preach on that topic, since one of the primary things we bless is people. Quite literally, however, we avoid throwing away candles, vestments and other objects that we have blessed for use in worship. Instead we “return them to the earth” by burning and/or burying them.

As a result, many Episcopal Churches have a cabinet or closet somewhere that is filled with candle stubs, from the skinny little hand-held tapers we use at Christmas and Easter to the larger candles that grace our altars. These are the remains of candles we have prayed over and around, again and again. We are reluctant to throw them out, and yet we never quite get around to finding something constructive to do with them.


Photo Courtesy of Randy OHC, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York.

Larger still are the Paschal Candles we bless and light for the first time at Easter each year, keep lighting throughout Eastertide, and make a point of lighting on the occasion of baptisms throughout the church year. Because these candles are meant not only to start out large and impressive but also to remain that way through many burnings, they often have more than a foot or two of wax and wick left when the time comes around to start a new candle. These too get put in the closet or cabinet.

At Holy Trinity, we had our own candle stubs that we experimented with melting down into new altar candles. When word got around that we were trying this, other parishes started handing off boxes and bags of their own candle stubs.  Alas, our candle making skills were not quite up to the task of making altar-quality candles! Next we tried re-filling the glass, 7-day votive lanterns we keep on our Mary, Joseph and Therese altars (we use a plastic, 14-day votive for our presence lamp). Alas, a standard 7-day votive wick is not up to the sustained heat generated by the beeswax we were melting down and contained by the glass lanterns.

Still determined to keep this reclaimed wax within the circle of prayer for which it was first harvested, we started looking for a more suitable container. Noticing that teacups are attractive but often left behind when folks buy dishes from charitable resale shops (most of us drink our hot beverages from mugs these days), we decided to up our reclamation game and try these cups out as votive holders. the results delighted us:Bluerim

  • the wide, open tops of the teacups allowed enough heat to escape that our wicks were no longer getting burnt to a crisp.
  • teacups (and the punch cups we quickly added to the mix) come in a variety of sizes and styles, suitable to many different tastes.
  • teacups are made to hold hot liquids, so the hot wax does not crack the cup
  • teacups are made for stability, resulting in less danger of a knocked-over candle.

We now have a lovely 4-6 hour votive candle made almost entirely from reclaimed materials. At present, we are still using newly-purchased wicks, but we are starting to experiment with reusing at least some of the wicks reclaimed from those candle stubs we started with!

PlaidRunner1Our hope is to sell these teacup votives as fundraiser for our continued ministry on the West Side of South Bend. These are not professional-grade candles. They are made in our parish kitchen, often in the midst of parish meetings and neighborhood events that allow the slow melt-down of candle stubs to be supervised (in the sense that the church doesn’t burn down in the process!). The sharp of eye will detect flecks of evidence that this wax comes from candles that have been burnt before. We see these things as features rather than flaws, since they are signs of the ongoing life of our church. Our hope is that as you burn this candle, you would feel our past and present prayers surrounding you with the power of God’s love.

Feast of St. Mary the Virgin

If you’ve seen one of the flyers for Holy Smoke! you may have noticed that our celebration includes “An Ecumenical Service of Prayer and Procession for the Feast of the Virgin Mary.” In case you’re wondering what that might look like, here are a few remarks about what we have in mind!

Coronation of the Virgin Mary by Diego Velasquez, 1645

Coronation of the Virgin Mary by Diego Velasquez, 1645

To begin with, the Episcopal Church holds that scripture contains “all things necessary to salvation.” What we mean by that is a refusal to consider any belief necessary that is not contained in scripture. While teachings from traditions other than scripture may be true, good and helpful, they are not necessary to salvation. With regard to Mary, we celebrate what we know of her from scripture. Although individuals among us may draw various conclusions about other aspects of Mary’s life, we don’t require anyone to share those conclusions.

August 15th is the day when we celebrate the end of Mary’s earthly ministry. Traditionally, we celebrate a saint on the day of the saint’s death. We do this to mark the day on which the saint entered into the fuller presence of God. We don’t know from scripture exactly how Mary did this, so the Episcopal Church does not require its members to hold any particular belief about it. What we know is that her ministry on Earth did end, and we presume that her Son was glad to receive her.

We share the date of our celebration with the rest of Christianity. Eastern Orthodox Christians call this day the Feast of the Dormition (sleeping), believing that Mary died a natural death, and that her body rested in the tomb for three days before being resurrected and taken up into heaven. Roman Catholics call this day the Feast of the Assumption, believing that Mary did not die a natural death but was taken bodily into heaven without dying. We all believe that Mary is in heaven and that she prays with us for the poor, the sick and the suffering.

Our focus will be on celebrating Mary’s release from the suffering she experienced in her life and on asking for her sympathy with those who likewise suffer. We will start our worship in front of the church. First we will go in procession around the outside of the church and then we will go around the inside. As we go, we will be singing a blues anthem, pausing after each verse to asking Mary to pray with us for the people of our neighborhood. Once we have gone inside, we will crown a statue of the Virgin Mary with flowers in celebration of the joy with which we presume she was received in heaven. After crowning the statue we with pray the Angelus. This prayer greets Mary with the words used by the Angel Gabriel in scripture when he announced that she was to bear the Son of God.

Our hope is that any Christian might be able to rejoice with us in this celebration of the faithful role Mary played in our salvation.

A Pastoral Letter from our Bishop on the Charleston Tragedy

June 19, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

Shortly after the devastating news of the mass murders at Emmanuel AME Church began to spread, a deacon of our diocese wrote to me.  “Why?” he asked.  “How could such a thing happen in a sacred place?  What can I say to people who are looking for an explanation?”  I have pondered those questions for a day and still am unable to answer.  The “Why?” and the “How?” are unfathomable in the face of overwhelming evil.  Nine people are dead, brothers and sisters in Christ.  They were cut down solely because of their race.  How could one human being inflict such a thing on another?  How can we hear God’s voice in the midst of the storm of emotions – from fear to anger to bewilderment – that sweep over us?

In the end, we are reduced to silence and prayer.  I find myself seeking to be still in the presence of the Lord.  I find myself gazing at the cross, and into the face of the One who suffered immeasurably on our behalf.  I find myself allowing the questions simply to be, now and perhaps forever unanswered.  Meanwhile, we can seek comfort in the familiar and oft-prayed words of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer – words that themselves were written by people who asked the same questions and struggled with their own version of the same pain.

Here are some texts that have seared themselves into my heart.  Perhaps they will touch yours as well.  In the first, the Psalmist – like us – pleads for understanding, and then slowly, tentatively, recognizes the Lord presence, without “explaining away” the evil.

O God, why have you utterly cast us off?
Why is your wrath so hot against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation that purchased long ago,
and the tribe you redeemed to be your inheritance,
and Mount Zion where you dwell.
Turn your steps toward the endless ruins;
the enemy has laid waste everything in your sanctuary.
Your adversaries roared in your holy place;
they set up banners as tokens of victory.
Yet God is my King from ancient times,
victorious in the midst of the earth.
(Psalm 74:1-4,11)

In the second, the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus himself suffered our sufferings and prayed our prayers (indeed, his Prayer Book was the Book of Psalms).  He walked the way of the Cross not only to rescue us from sin, but also to drink to the dregs the pain of human life.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.
(Hebrews 5:7-8)

And finally, two prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brothers and sisters Cynthia, Sharonda, Ethel, Tywanza, Clementa, Myra, DePayne, Daniel, and Susie, who were reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that their death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father’s love.  Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way, and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages.  Amen.
(BCP, p. 498)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son:  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
(BCP, p. 815)

I ask that this Sunday, in all the parishes of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, prayer be offered for the victims, for their families, for the city of Charleston and all touched by this tragedy, and for our nation.  With all blessings I am

Yours in Christ,