Mary Grace McCord of Homewood burns a list of negative behavior Sunday at the Unity of Birmingham church in Birmingham. Members approach the altar and light their list from a white pillar candle and burn the paper as a symbol of letting go of the bad in 2007.
Church sends bad habits up in smoke
BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Amid hugs, humor and a jazzy instrumental version of The Doors' "Light My Fire," members of Unity of Birmingham church reflected on their inner life as they took part in their annual fire ceremony.
Members wrote down the bad habits they wished to send up in smoke — then literally did so as they set the sheets of paper afire with a candle flame near the altar and tossed the burning paper into a metal urn.
"There are things we would be better off releasing," said Mary Grace McCord of Homewood, one of about 200 Unity members who lined up and took part in the ceremony Sunday afternoon.
The ritual dates back about 50 years at the church, and hundreds of years in other faiths. At Unity, the flame of the white pillar candle represents the positive energy of Jesus in helping turn the negative — such as "worry," "fear," "selfishness" — to ashes in the new year.
As part of the ceremony, Unity members also wrote letters to themselves, outlining their goals for 2007. The church will mail those self-addressed letters to the members in December for them to reflect on their progress.
Participants also write letters of thanks to God.
"Any time we complain or criticize, we set up an energy that destroys us, our health, our wealth and our happiness," the Rev. Gerald "Jerry" Bartholow said. "The new year is a time of turning to our God energy and changing old ways."
Carol Kennedy of Forestdale and her mother, Evelyn McDonald of Birmingham, said they have taken part in the annual ceremony for more than 20 years.
"I burn the same thing every year, but I see it diminishing," Kennedy told The Birmingham News, noting her struggle with fear.
"This is another form of prayer, but it's not the norm for the masses."
The newspaper said several members feel the ceremony is sometimes misinterpreted by those unfamiliar with the ritual. Unity members believe partly that negativity is created by humans, not any Satan-like figure, and that humans have the same power as Christ for loving and forgiving.
"The burning ceremonies are not a practice of mainline Christian groups," said Paul House, assistant dean at Beeson Divinity School at the Baptist-affiliated Samford University. "Things like this, though, appear throughout history. The Lord's Supper, baptism, praying in the desert. It's all in the form of symbols to be closer to God. If it helps you concentrate or visualize, OK.
"But are you closer to God just because of the act? No."
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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