In Brevard, North Carolina, Unitarian Universalists made 104 clay chalices in their homes—a hands-on way to stay connected.
Rosalie Alff carves Latin words into clay that will become a chalice. (© 2020 Eloise Shepard)
Side by side atop an outdoor concrete wall, they perched closer than people can: 104 clay chalices made by eighty-four members and friends of Unitarian Universalists of Transylvania County (UUTC) in Brevard, North Carolina. Behind them stood masked singers and musicians. It was the summer solstice celebration, it was a chance to honor UUTC’s high school seniors—and it was time to light the chalices that had connected everyone since May, when the “Light to Connect Us” project debuted.
The project was simple: UUTC invited members and the public to create chalices from clay, at home. Member and Congregational Administrator RK Young had the idea while sitting on her back porch, “distressed for our members, who are my friends, and trying to figure out something that we could safely do as an activity that would feel communal,” she explained.
RK Young prepares clay for participants to pick up. (© 2020 Kay Webb)
Young, a retired art teacher, created an instructional video and online signup sheet, and managed all things clay. Administrative Assistant Eloise Shepard scheduled clay pickup times so participants could claim the material, prewrapped, from a container outside the church; when complete, chalices were taken to the vestry ahead of firing. Masks, gloves, baggies, and Lysol played a part. “It was sort of a no-contact kind of deal,” said Shepard.
But the connection was tangible. One congregant’s adult children suddenly opted out, so she and her friend worked the clay in a covered porch as a rainstorm roiled. Kelii “Rabbit” Krueger and her 5-year-old, Kitra, also participated. “My daughter really needs things more hands-on,” Krueger said. “This new Zoom video world wasn’t really working for her.” Each design was unique, Young said: “So many. . . . just spoke of joy and peace.”
The experience provided other links. People read about the project and signed up; emails ensued. “And then people got to go to the church, even if it’s just to pick up clay. . . . Visually, you’re connected with the physical space of the church,” Shepard said.
Sofia Pandolfo, a graduating senior, lights some of the 104 handmade chalices during a June 21 outdoor service at UUTC. (© 2020 Michael Shore)
On June 21, members gathered at UUTC for the first time since March for an outdoor celebration that was also livestreamed. As their youth lit each chalice, the constellation of flames became one. Then, accompanied by a mandolin and a guitar, the people sang “This Little Light of Mine.”
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Heather Beasley Doyle is a freelance journalist and UU based in Arlington, Massachusetts, whose work has appeared in Episcopal News Service, TheNation.com, Al Jazeera America, and other publications.