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.
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:
- 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!
Our 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.