Holding the Light

By Wendy Weiss, Programs and Membership Coordinator


Winter Solstice nears at the endcap of a year that may well be characterized as one of sustained darkness for many. Our routines—daily, seasonal, and holiday—have been significantly disrupted, at best. At a time of year that is often more difficult for those of us suffering loss, depression, isolation, distance from family and loved ones, or financial insecurity among many other hardships, it is compounded this year.


It is with great care and tenderness that I share these reflections at this time.


This year, putting up our tree in an empty sanctuary that would not be seen in person by anyone in our congregation gave me pause. Usually we have a team of people helping to lug down the heavy box full of artificial tree parts. Everyone manages to sort themselves accordingly for the tasks of heavy lifting, tree assembly engineering, ornament box sifting, or decorating based on skill and interest levels.


This year, I sat with a basket of displaced nametags, untouched for months. Instead of dutifully accessorizing an item of clothing and announcing the wearer, the tags merely referred to a person who hasn’t been in the sanctuary since spring. Honestly, they looked as lonely as I felt.


This year, I picked each of them up, one by one, read the name printed, and hugged the plastic encased symbol of each Westsider. I held the nametag, looking at the tree, wondering where each would like to sit, as if inviting them to find a chair in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning. I was thinking of who usually sits with whom, who’s partnered together, who seems to have been seen last longer ago and might like to sit closer to the chalice now.


This year, I thought of the newer visitors and members who maybe hadn’t yet gotten a formal name tag. I thought about all the people who I know take their nametags home with them or keep them in their cars after forgetting to drop them in the tag rack on their way out the door. I thought about the significance of representation and of naming. And of the quirky habits we humans have.


This year, I placed all of these physical and imagined nametags on our tree. I added three red ornaments, each standing in for Bill Calhoun, Mary Donovan, and Sue Draper, who we lost this year. Their symbolic presence now the heart center of our 2020 holiday tree. And somehow it felt like a gathering, albeit one reminiscent of a child’s tea party with stuffed animals. There we all were, silently gathered, sitting around the tree. And I lit the chalice, even though it wasn’t a Sunday morning, and there wasn’t a chalice lighting being read by a worship associate.


This year, I am holding the light for our congregation through enacting these traditions on our behalf. As I sat alone in the glow of strung bulbs and chalice flame, I began to understand more deeply the sentiment of “keeping the home fires burning.” Of putting the front porch light on while waiting for the return of a loved one. Of putting a candle in the window to help the soul find its way home.


This year, I feel more like a lighthouse keeper than a membership coordinator, or whatever it is that I do anymore. And that’s ok. I’m lucky. I have people to miss. I have a job to do, even if it is in an empty building most of the time. Rev. Carol always says, “I’m privileged to serve Westside as minister.”


This year, I know that privilege of serving Westside is a lump in my throat as I plan and prepare our annual Winter Solstice Spiral for a Zoom service. I know that privilege is the welling up of emotion as I hear recorded versions of the songs sung by our choir over the years. I know it is a great privilege to look on old images with nostalgia and longing.


This year, I’m holding the light for each and every one of you. May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you know you are loved.



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Westside Unitarian Universalist Church

616 Fretz Road

Knoxville, TN 37934

(865) 777-9882

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