Marjorie Pearsall (left) holds a pillar candle used by St. Mary Magdalene church in Picton, Ont., as a permanent peace candle. The parish, including parishioners Betty LaFrance, Sue Rowe, Fran Langlois, rector Rev. Jennifer Davis and Rick Neate, has embraced the concept of spreading peace by lighting and sharing candles.
If, by chance, you visit St. Mary Magdalene church in Picton, Ont., do not be surprised if a parishioner invites you to take a candle away to your home church. It is a peace candle, the parishioner will say, and your only obligation is to light it, pray for peace, and hopefully, pass it along.
The story of the peace candle began 19 years ago when an elderly Russian woman took to heart the Chinese proverb “Don’t curse the darkness – light a candle,” and inadvertently started a prayer-for-peace chain that has not only remained unbroken but has grown longer, involving various Christian churches around the world.
As the story goes, the unidentified woman approached a small group of visiting American Christians attending a service at a Russian Orthodox church in Odessa. She pressed three rubles into the hand of a minister with a request that he buy a candle and light it in his church as a prayer for and symbol of peace between the two nations then embroiled in a bitter Cold War.
Upon his return to America, the minister bought a candle and put it on the communion table of the First Presbyterian church in York, Penn., where it continues to be lit at every worship service. That single candle multiplied when the church bought 100 candles and urged its parishioners to take a candle with them when they visit another church and asked visitors to take a candle home to their own churches.
Proof that the world has become a global village and the longing for peace universal, the peace candles are now burning in churches across the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Ireland, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, South Africa and Zambia.
According to the Picton parish, a peace candle arrived in Canada via a visitor from a Baptist church in Peterborough, Scotland, who brought it to Westworth United church in Winnipeg. In 2003, a peace candle from Munster, Germany, arrived at St. Stephen’s Anglican church in Ottawa, and was lit at an ecumenical service commemorating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. From that service, a peace candle was brought to St. Mary Magdalene via Holy Trinity Anglican church in Headingley, Man.
St. Mary Magdalene, in turn, pursued the peace candle as a ministry. So far this year, it has given away 25 candles, which have gone to Washington, D.C., Maryland, Minnesota and many parts of Ontario.
Parishioners donate the candles and candleholders, according to parish volunteer Fran Langlois. She said that the peace candles have “provided us a connection with other churches, not just the Anglican church.” She said that the parish was quick to embrace the ministry “because everybody wants peace – in our church, in our community and the world.”
For her part, Ms. Langlois said the ministry “has given me an awareness that we are all members of a larger community of Christ, that we’re of one church.” She herself has brought a peace candle to St. Matthew’s Anglican church in Abbotsford, B.C., which was lit at a service. “I felt strangely but spiritually connected during the whole service to my church family back in Picton,” she said. “Hopefully the peace candle will help to bring peace and unity to God’s kingdom – one candle at a time.”