URBANA — This is no ordinary little light.
The flame used to relight the gas stoves at two church kitchens in Champaign and Urbana traveled a long way to get there, and its origin was a grotto in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.
The International Peace Light has made its way to this community for several years with the help of local Boy Scouts and their leaders.
This year, it was used to light the fourth and last candle in the Advent wreath this past Sunday at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Urbana, and to relight the pilot lights in the gas stove at that church and the one at Community United Church of Christ, Champaign.
It also was used in the candlelight service at Community United Church of Christ on Christmas Eve.
The journey the flame has made to reach Champaign-Urbana this year, as in years past, was a winding one.
Traditionally, a child from Upper Austria obtains the light from the grotto in Bethlehem each year, and it’s carried in two blast-proof miners’ lamps on Austrian Airlines from Tel Aviv, Israel to Vienna, Austria.
From there, it’s distributed across the world, according to PeaceLight.org.
In the U.S., the light is transported to New York City with a goal of spreading it across the country. That’s where some local folks step in.
DAVID WILLCOX of Urbana, an assistant Boy Scout leader, said he emailed a volunteer who was distributing the light.
Willcox made arrangements to meet volunteer BRIAN DUANE at Casey’s in Urbana when Duane was en route from Indiana to St. Louis.
“The whole thing is coordinated basically on a Facebook page,” Willcox said.
From Casey’s, Willcox brought the light back to his home, and kept it going in two lanterns until it was picked up by DEREK GATEWOOD to be taken to St. Matthew.
That church is the home of Cub Scout Pack 114 and Boy Scout Troop 104, which Gatewood co-leads with his wife, REBECCA.
These two troops have been involved in the Peace Light journey to this community since 2013, according to Derek, a Carle Foundation Hospital nurse.
For him, this is about spreading light in the darkness of the world.
“For me, it’s a personal blessing to do something for others at the moment when people are focused on so many things that are distracting,” he said.
The Peace Light missed a year in the area last year, Gatewood said. That’s because the man formerly involved in bringing it to Urbana, PAUL DUMONTELLE, moved away, Gatewood said.
“This year, our assistant scout master, Dave Willcox, he talked to somebody en route through Indiana,” Gatewood said.
A software developer, Willcox said transferring the Peace Light to the gas stove pilot lights can help keep it burning beyond Christmas.
And at his own church, Community United Church of Christ, there’s going to be an additional feature to having this light burning in the stove, he said.
That church offers a weekly community meal called Jubilee Cafe each Monday night and serves anyone and everyone who shows up.
Relighting the pilot light in the gas stove in that church kitchen means the Peace Light will be used to prepare foods for the hungry, Willcox said.
“I just think having a connection to a 1,000-year-old flame associated with the birthplace of Jesus is so cool, especially as we celebrate his birth,” he said. “And in particular, I like how it’s passed person-to-person, hand-to-hand, across at least two continents, entirely by volunteers.”
The Rev. LEAH ROBBERTS-MOSSER, pastor of Community United Church of Christ, said on one hand, fire is just fire, bread is just bread and water is just water.
“But in the practice of our faith, ordinary things become extraordinary through the power of God’s love,” she said.
She planned to focus her Christmas Eve sermon on the Peace Light and its potential impact on each person, she said.
“My challenge will be you also have a little bit of this flame, whether you take it and do something with it or just let it burn in your hearts, that flame is now in you and our ordinary lives become extraordinary,” she said.
Gatewood said other churches would be welcome to share the light. Here’s what it felt like for him to pass it along: “There is that moment you are focused on I am passing something good from God to others,” he said.