All the way from Bethlehem, Peace Light comes to Holston

All the way from Bethlehem, Peace Light comes to Holston

At Kodak UMC, Sawyer Widner lights a candle using the original Peace flame from Jesus' birthplace.

A light that originally came from the grotto where Jesus was born now lives in a hot water heater in Kodak, Tennessee.

In the busy days before Christmas, the same flame was transported to at least five Holston Conference churches so it could be shared during Advent candlelight services.

The person who brought the Bethlehem Peace Light to Holston territory is Tracie Jenkins Widner, a member of Kodak United Methodist Church.

“I won’t blow it out. I won’t turn it off,” she said.

Widner first heard about the Peace Light in December 2018, when she saw on Facebook that scouts all over North America were passing the flame from state to state, town to town -- much like an Olympic torch relay.

“I read all the different posts and asked other scout leaders around here, ‘Do you all do this?’ Everybody seemed kind of unfamiliar with it,” said Widner, a Boy Scout cubmaster and den leader.

Widner did her research and learned the Peace Light has been kept burning for 1,000 years in Israel.

“The continuously burning flame is meant to promote peace, harmony and unity among the people of the world regardless of race, ethnicity or religion,” according to a press release by Peace Light campaign organizers. “For several decades the International Scouting movement -- both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts -- have actively promoted global peace and harmony through the distribution of the Peace Light.”

In late November, the Peace Light was transported in blast-proof miners lamps by flight from Israel to Austria to New York, where scouts and others joined in a ceremony, ignited their own lamps, and began to fan out across the continent.

This year, Widner was ready. Her question was, “How do I get it, and how do I keep it going?”

Through a special Facebook group, Widner learned that a man, Fredrich Maney, would carry the light from Marietta, Georgia, to Indianapolis, Indiana. She bought two lamps, placed them in buckets and made arrangements to meet Maney on Dec. 10 in a gas station parking lot off I-75 in Knoxville.
Tracie Widner's lamps

To keep the light burning, Widner blew out the pilot light in her hot water heater, relighting it with the Peace Light. Then she began sharing it with churches and scout troops, driving as far as Bristol and Cookeville.  

When the Rev. Melissa Smith, Kodak pastor, learned about the light in Widner’s possession, she made arrangements to share it through her church’s Advent lightings and on Christmas Eve. Smith also contacted Holston communications staff to invite other United Methodists to relay the flame.

By Christmas Day, the Peace Light had also been shared at First Bulls Gap UMC, First Bristol UMC, Caryville UMC, and Grove UMC (Radford, Va.). Some worshippers took the light home to share with others.

Tucker Garrison lights a peace candle in Kodak.

"I thought it would be a great experience for not just my girls, but also our church,” said Karoline Berg, whose two daughters are Girl Scouts. Berg is the wife of the Rev. Brandon Berg, pastor at First Bristol UMC.
“It was a way to share the peace and love of Jesus Christ with all of those around us. It is a wonderful symbol, all the way from Bethlehem,” she said.

Three days after the Bergs received the light, the church custodian accidentally blew it out. Her children were so upset that Karoline Berg drove 100 miles to Kodak to get a re-light in time for Christmas Eve worship.

Widner was ready, and so was her warm-hearted water heater.

Rebekah, Sarah and Noah Berg stand next to the Peace Light at First Bristol UMC.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.