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Flame from Bethlehem burns in Pequot Lakes church

Grace United Methodist Church Pastor Gary Liker drove to St. Cloud to pick up a "peace candle" flame which was originated in the grotto in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Travis Grimler / Forum News Service

PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. — Like the Olympic flame, the Light of Peace is a flame that is transported across the world, with origins in one of the most meaningful locations in Christendom. This year that flame came to provide light on an altar at Grace United Methodist Church in Pequot Lakes.

For 32 years the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation has sent a child to Bethlehem to retrieve a flame from the Grotto of the Nativity in the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the actual birthplace of Jesus. The flame is then flown back to Austria aboard an Austrian Airlines jet from Tel Aviv, Israel, and from there it spreads by candles, lanterns and lamps across Europe. Following the 9/11 attacks the flame was first brought to the United States, and now every year that flame spreads across the United States.

This year, a little piece of it landed in Pequot Lakes.

Grace United Methodist Church Pastor Gary Liker learned about the Light of Peace through Facebook approximately a year ago.

“When I found out about it, it was already past Christmas,” Liker said. “I ‘liked’ the page and have been keeping up on when it was going to be here and so on. This year it came from Austria and landed in New York JFK Airport on Dec. 1.”

The flame is spread by people who have taken it unto themselves as distributors to announce when they receive it and help it spread. Liker traveled to St. Cloud to meet with such a distributor and brought back a piece of the flame Wednesday, Dec. 19, just in time for a special church service.

“This Sunday (Dec. 23) our focus happens to be on peace,” Liker said. “Fortunately I was able to get it here. We will have a minor ceremony where we light different candles from those flames. I'm just happy it's here.”

The ceremony also was to include the lighting of an “eternal candle.”

To Liker, the Light of Peace is important on several levels. For one, the fragile, unpredictable flame was transported from halfway around the world by people with lanterns and candles before coming to rest in Pequot Lakes. Second, Liker hopes the presence of the flame in the church will be meaningful to his congregation.

“As a Christian, as a pastor and as a believer, it came from where we believe Jesus to have been born, and I don't think it can get more holy than that,” Liker said. “I hope and pray that this will be as moving for them as it has been for me. It's been emotional even planning it out, then finally meeting the lady in St. Cloud and seeing and knowing where it came from and safely getting it to Pequot Lakes. I hope it means as much to them as it has to me.”

Liker is open to sharing the flame with members of the congregation, provided they have a way of safely transporting it.

“We haven't thought about that too far ahead, but they are certainly welcome to if they have a candle they bring or something to be safe,” Liker said. “I'm not opposed to letting them take the light home. A lot of people have it in their home.”

Some places try to keep the flame going throughout the entire year, but GUMC will keep the flame going through the Christmas season, and at this point Liker expects they will be extinguished or allowed to burn out after Epiphany.