Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 11, 2019
Stookeys to present ‘One Light, Many Candles’ in Blue Hill
Multifaith program blends music, religion and hope
by Anne Berleant
Born out of a faith “that had always been huge,” Betty Stookey created “One Light, Many Candles” years ago while chaplain at a Massachusetts prep school. She was in her first year as a newly ordained minister.
“[My children] were all gone and I didn’t want to be a Bloody-Mary-book-club kind of person,” she laughed. “I was casting around. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
So Stookey applied to Harvard Divinity School, at a time when most people are thinking about retirement. She assumed she would not be accepted, but she was, and immediately barriers to moving to Cambridge, Mass., fell away. “Two cats left, one cat died, and my daughter asked if she could stay in the house,” Stookey said.
Also, her husband, Noel Stookey, came along for the ride, first to Cambridge and then to Betty’s first chaplaincy.
“He said, ‘Betty, you’ve been following me around all these years. Now it’s my turn,’” she said. “He was the chaplain’s husband.”
While chaplain at the Massachusetts prep school, she was asked early on to give a presentation to faculty, and the first rendition of “One Light, Many Candles” was born. The program now blends theological, spiritual and related readings with music, performed by Noel.
“I was trying to bring the kids together,” she said, while the women’s alumni group funding her position “expected me to do the strict Catholic thing.”
Betty survived the inner politics to keep her position for eight years. During and after, “One Light, Many Candles” grew into its present form, with invitations to present at churches, seminaries and schools throughout the country for the past 10 years.
On Sunday, October 20, the Stookeys will present “One Light, Many Candles” at the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill, in place of the usual Sunday sermon.
“Our church has been talking for several years about stepping beyond our traditional worship style, and adding some alternative and innovative ways of experiencing God,” said Head Deacon Hunt Gressitt, who had originally invited Betty to preach on Sunday. “We see this as an opportunity to offer our congregation and our community something wonderful in a creative mode.”
For Betty Stookey, “One Light, Many Candles” represents her welcoming of all religious and spiritual beliefs into a multifaith program that leans on words from Martin Luther King to Gandhi, with a range of theological readings in between.
“I believed in God but I wasn’t so sure about the rest of it,” she said of her interest in attending seminary school. “My faith had always been huge—not confined—and I could never find anything that fit it.”
“One Light, Many Candles” brings this multifaith approach alive in words and music. “People come out happy, optimistic,” Betty said. “It’s very positive, very hopeful.”
Noel Stookey pulls songs from his existing repertoire, and pieces by other songwriters, “with deep consultation” with Betty, to match the readings she chooses.
“I’m the organ monkey in this group,” he laughed.
The program is ever evolving, they agreed. “I believe in what we do,” Betty said. “I believe that God or the universe, or whatever you want to call it, wants us to love each other, not kill each other. Why aren’t we doing that? That’s what this program is about.”