A Sermon delivered by the Rev. Ernest Penn
on an unknown date at
the Unitarian Church, Scarborough (probably)

Community Glow

The main differences between ourselves and most other bodies in the Christian tradition arise from the emphasis we place on the Light of the Holy Spirit in the human soul - potentially all human souls, the Divine Spark in all. Thus direct contact between the Universal Spirit and the human spirit we are prepared to trust as the basis of our individual and corporate life. No forms of the Light which lightens everyone is the monopoly of any priestly caste through whom alone it can be ministered to others. All are called to be priests: dispersers of the Light vouchsafed to us.

So we welcome the Light from whatever quarter it comes, and our power to perceive the Inward Light is the cue we need most to cultivate and develop. This one Holy Light in the heart of every man and woman is the basis of our faith in the spiritual unity of all races and nations.

Because we have been blind to this, we have failed in social and international relations and to recognise the oneness of the human race. The 'Divine Spark' is in all men and women, and as they realise its presence and follow its light in their hearts so do they find power to overcome evil by good and to bring light where there is darkness.

Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel. but on a candlestick and it giveth light to all that are in the house. (Matthew 5:15)

Each candle lit gives light to all [and] contributes to the Community Glow. Your candles and mine give light to the whole fellowship. The light of each of our lives gives itself to the community glow - the warmth and light of our fellowship. We bring the faith we each have to the community faith we share. I am reminded of the days when here at Park Street we used to hold the New Year's Eve Party, followed at midnight by the Watchnight Service. A candelabra of candles was the only light in the church; the congregation processed from the church hall into the church, each carrying a lighted candle in single file. Gradually the level of illumination in the church increased candle by candle as each one radiated its light outwards; when all were assembled the church was flooded with a Community Glow. The Community Glow relies and grows and is warmed by radiation of light energy from the centre and soul of each individual making up the community.


What can we each give to the Community Glow? We can radiate the light, that is send it outwards and around. We can radiate hope, where others may feel depression and misgiving. In difficult times we can radiate courage where people grow faint and are likely to fall.

We can radiate loving kindness and compassion when too often the world is heartless and unconcerned. We can radiate contagious good humour where impatience or indifference is common. We can radiate tolerance and the desire to understand where people are too often judged by mere labels or without real enquiry. We can radiate unselfishness and generosity when too often the world is ruled by mere self-advantage and vested interest. We can radiate an unremitting desire for truth where people are frequently blinded by passion or greed, or uninformed prejudice. May we do all these things so that the light there is within us (undimmed by pride or pretension or self-consciousness) may freely radiate around to give its fullness and warmth to the Community Glow.

Towards the end of the Civil War in America a regiment of the Union Army was bivouacked in one of the Southern States. They were far from home and far from their base. Supplies would sometimes run pretty low. The colonel had run short of candles and had difficulty writing letters. One dark night, seated in front of his tent, idly watching the fireflies, he suddenly thought that here was plenty of light if only it could be harnessed. He suggested this possibility to his orderly who promptly disappeared into the darkness and returned ten minutes later with his forage cap full of fireflies. The fireflies were carefully transferred to a glass tumbler and placed on the table. The colonel found he could easily write his letters by the glow of light that came from the tumbler full of fireflies. Every community of human beings is a tumbler full of fireflies in the sense that every human personality gives off a certain glow that radiates from the light within. This way a person looks at things, whether friendly or surly, whether cheerful or morose, whether optimistic or despondent (the person's motives and scruples, values and sanctions, ambitions and restraints, freedom and fear); all these qualities comprise a sort of glow that proceeds from the personality. Every personality gives forth its own peculiar glow, and when we have many personalities assembled in a community or society a vast all-embracing composite glow which is sufficient to illuminate the moral or spiritual landscape for every member of the community. If this seems fanciful; the truth underlying it cannot be denied. Every family, community or society of human beings, like a tumbler full of flies, gives off a sort of moral, intellectual, Spiritual Glow.

The most important thing about a community is not its size, nor its wealth, nor its body of laws, but the quality of the glow which it gives off. Each one of us lives in that glow. The objectives of life, and the moral duties of life, are illumined and coloured for each one of us by the composite glow of the community.

Of the individual Jesus said: If thine eye be single the whole body shall be full of light, but if thine eye be evil they whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"

But Jesus might well have spoken these words of a community: If the community eye be single every member of that community will be full of light, but if the light of the community be darkness, how great is that darkness! Paul warns his friends at Ephesus, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood." Not against tangible enemies or concrete evils but against principaling powers of darkness. They are trying to overcome the intangible forces of greed, fear, malice, superstition and ignorance that lower the candle power of the light by which the community lives. We may ask of our own community: e.g. this church: What kind of glow does it radiate; what is its candle power? Is the light blocked or filtered - by personal whim, vested interest, narrowness, inward-looking attitudes, prejudice, intolerance?

The candle power of the community of this church depends on the quality and brightness of the light we each bring. The degree to which we are each prepared to share the light we have and not hide it under a bushel, but to put it on a candlestick so it gives light to all in the house, to allow it to radiate outwards from us and feed its warmth to the Community Glow

Scarborough Unitarian Church

This is my church. It is composed of people like me. We make it what it is. I want it to be a church that is a lamp to the path of pilgrims, leading them to goodness, truth and beauty. It will be if I can.

The late Rev. Ernest Penn


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful