Let me begin this by saying that it’s not the wreath itself that I was afraid of, but lighting the candle in the wreath.
From the beginning: I go to a United Methodist church, and each year, we light a candle on the Advent wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas.
Earlier this week, the church secretary called me. It seems that I was on the schedule to light the candle during the 9 a.m. service (we have two services) today, the first Sunday in Advent. The secretary didn’t have an updated email address for me, so I didn’t know I was scheduled for this until she told me.
“Are you going to be able to do this? Are you going to be in town?” she asked.
I told her yes.
We chatted a little more, and then I asked the most important question: “You said I would light a candle?”
“Yes,” the secretary said.
“I just don’t want to burn down the church,” I said.
I guess she thought I was joking, but I wasn’t, and the anxiety set in.
I don’t like fire. I don’t like matches. If you can believe it, I can’t even strike a match. I’m too afraid that I’ll do it wrong and burn myself or drop it and burn down a building.
When I used to burn candles, trying to use them to help me relax, the only way I was able to light them was to use a cigarette lighter or one of those long grill lighters
I finally stopped because of all the anxiety I had about the candles turning over or about me falling asleep and forgetting about them or not putting them out completely before I left the house or went to bed.
All this past week, I thought about it, and tried to remember how the wreath lighting had been done in the past. I hadn’t been at church during the Christmas season for a while. All I could remember was that people walked up and somehow lit the candle and read something aloud.
I really wasn’t nervous about standing up in front of people and speaking. I’m very introverted and shy, but my years of teaching and giving presentations at various jobs had moved me out of my comfort zone enough to be fairly used to it.
I was worried about getting that darn candle lit without looking like an idiot.
What if I fumbled with matches and the minister had to light the candle for me? Could I just ask the minister beforehand to light it for me? Would there be one of those lighter things to use?
Last night, I remembered. I remembered how the candles had been lit in years past. The long acolyte lighters were used to first draw a flame from the candles burning on the altar, and then to light the candle.
Oh, I could handle that, I thought.
When I walked into the sanctuary this morning, I panicked. The candles on the altar were unlit.
The Advent wreath was sitting on a stand up front, waiting for me to come up and burn it up. (OK, I’m being a little overly dramatic, but that’s what my fear does to me!)
The minister came over and reviewed with me what I would say and pray. And then he held up one of those acolyte lighters, which at that moment looked quite beautiful to me.
“I thought this would make the lighting easier,” he said. “I’ll light it from the altar candles and then bring it to you.”
Hooray! I thought.
“And you’ll light the altar candles?” I asked.
He said he would, since we use acolytes only during the 11 a.m. service (the more formal one).
Now all I had to worry about was transferring the flame from the lighter to a candle. I could relax a bit. There was even time to start worrying about tripping when I walked up front, or totally messing up the call to worship.
Everything went fine. There was a little glitch when the minister handed me the lighter. The wreath has a center candle, with four smaller ones around it, three purple and one pink. I knew not to light the middle candle or the pink one, but which of the purple ones?
“Which candle do I light?” I whispered.
“Any of them,” he said. “Do one of the ones in the front.”
I hope no one in the congregation heard our comments, because a live mic was around.
I lit the candle, handed the acolyte lighter to the minister and scooted on down to my seat.
Later today, I was thinking about my OCD fear of doing others harm and how that had been behind my fear of the candle. I had to laugh at myself. Years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to.
And I’m very excited about candles now. I just learned about battery-powered ones.