On Sunday, November 7th, we will be retiring our “Lamp of Safety” after twenty years. You may recall that Pastor Steve Lambert addressed this potentiality in a blog post on May 13th, 2021, stating:
Is this the time to cease lighting the lamp of safety in worship? With the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan effective this coming September 11th, might that be a time to cease lighting the lamp, especially since our troops moving into Afghanistan was much of what prompted lighting the lamp almost 20 years ago?
Unlike my two predecessors, I have not been connected to the military. And, unlike many in our community and church, I have never served or been deployed. I have appreciated the service of others and tried to recognize it as best as I could. But I cannot fully understand.
However, I know the importance of symbols and rituals. After 9/11, having a visible way to recognize and remember God’s providential care of those who are “in harm’s way this day” has been deeply meaningful to many. While some may have forgotten those in the midst of conflict, we remembered.
In our September Administrative Council meeting our Leadership contemplated retiring “The Lamp of Safety.” This was not a new conversation. While we understand and appreciate the symbolism and the history—with several career military men and women stating how much it meant while they or family members were overseas—we thought this could be the time to retire it…at least for a season. It had been 20 years since it was first lit and there has been a whole generation born since. Troops were now leaving Afghanistan. And, there have been other crises that could have warranted our attention throughout the years, not least a global pandemic that has claimed 750,000 American lives.
So, we asked, when is a good time to extinguish our lamp? When is a good time to celebrate what this lamp has meant and know that we can bring it back when there is another pressing need that calls us to pray with a renewed urgency?
As someone who has not served, I did not want this to be my decision. It couldn’t be. I merely knew it was a conversation that others started. The decision had to be made by church leadership and needed to include voices of those who have been most invested in the conflicts for which the lamp was originally lit. Our leadership provided those voices.
At that Administrative Council meeting we voted, unanimously, to retire the “Lamp of Safety.” It was originally to happen on the Sunday closest September 11th, but I was isolating at home at the time with COVID. Therefore, it was later suggested by one of our retired military to light the lamp for the last time on the Sunday before Veterans Day — this coming Sunday. It also happens to be the day we’ll remember the saints in the church. This seems fitting.
This Sunday we will close out our worship with a prayer for Veterans Day and a remembrance of all those who have served “in harms way.” We will also celebrate that the people of The United Methodist Church of Chugiak, with or without a lamp, continue to pray for all, everywhere, in the midst of conflict.
And when there is a time where we need a reminder of God’s providential care, we can bring our lamp back with renewed symbolism, taking on new meaning for a new generation.