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Signs and Symbol


A few weeks ago, the Unitarian Universalist Association unveiled a new logo. It’s the image above this paragraph. I’ll give you a moment to take a look at it and think about how it strikes you. It’s a flaming chalice of course, but I’ve heard any number of other things that it supposedly looks like. A torch. A tulip. A person with their arms outstretched. And a  few other things that I won’t repeat in print.

Because the first way that news like this gets announced these days is via the internet, and because one of the internet’s greatest powers is to foment and encourage over-reaction, I’ve seen a lot of energized debate about the new logo. It has its supporters and its detractors. (You can read more about it here as you develop your own opinion.) The most grave concern that I’ve seen people raise about it – and one I want to allay right off – is that a change in our association’s logo means a change in our religion’s symbol. It does not. Such a change is actually entirely beyond the reach of the UUA. At least in terms of the headquarters staff and/or the UUA board – which is what we usually mean when we say “the UUA did X.” The UUA is actually the term for all of our congregations and the people who make them up, so it includes you, and me, and pretty much everyone who’s invested in this conversation.

The flaming chalice has been the primary symbol of our religious movement for a while now (it began to gain momentum in the 1970s-1980s), but it wasn’t what we had in mind when our association formed in 1961. The symbol we chose then was a set of two interlocking rings, representing the coming together of Unitarianism and Universalism. (The flaming chalice depicted inside those rings is one popular rendition of the symbol – this was the logo of the UUA two logos ago.) The flaming chalice came to be our dominant symbol because people and congregations started using it as such. The chalice originates with a symbol employed by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, originally created for the old Unitarian Service Committee during World War II, as something official-looking to stamp on travel documents for people the USC was helping to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe. (It was created by an atheist artist with no religious affiliation, at the behest of a Christian Unitarian minister – you can read more about it here.)

Each of the flaming chalice logos that have been used by the UUSC and the UUA and various congregations and UU groups are different from each other. Some look like goblets, others like wide bowls. Some have long stems, and some none at all. Some have small flames, and some have big, Technicolor ones. And yet, none that I have ever seen (not even the “1667 Chalice” logo we use at First Parish) look anything like the chalice we actually use in worship here – the unique creation of long-time member Mac Coleman. (Quite coincidentally, this new one from the UUA might actually come the closest.) The diversity within this symbol is wide and vast, and that fits who we are as a people. Our varied communities have the power and the responsibility to forge their own unique expressions of Unitarian Universalism, based on the particular missions they serve and the particular people who serve them. So too with our chalices. Whoever uses this new chalice – or doesn’t – it is just one more addition to the galaxy of signs that make up the shared symbol we have chosen together.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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