NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It began with one Bethel College student longing for a way to bring diverse people together around a shared belief in peace, and has now been going on for more than 25 years.
Bethel’s Advent tradition, the Lighting of the Green, takes place just a bit earlier this year due to the semester starting a week earlier. It is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m. in the center of campus.
Beth (Hege) Piatote, now of Berkeley, Calif., had the germ of an idea for a short Advent gathering back in 1986, when she was a sophomore at Bethel. She shared it with her friend Stephanie Gingerich and their professor, Patty Shelly of the Bible and religion department, and Lighting of the Green was born.
The format of Lighting of the Green has changed little in 26 years. As Bethel physical plant employees douse some campus lights that normally stay on all night, students, faculty, staff and community members gather to take candles and position themselves on the sidewalk around the Green It takes about 250 people to entirely circle the Green.
Shelly leads the singing of Christmas carols, there is reading of Advent Scripture passages, and then the candles are lighted to form “a wreath around the Green.”
At the end of the service, everyone walks into the middle of the Green with their lights – creating a “Christ candle” as the lights come closer together – to sing one or two additional carols. Finally, everyone is invited to the dining hall for cookies and hot drinks.
Piatote says she never imagined her idea would turn into a tradition, but the simplicity and brevity of the service (it lasts about 15 minutes) have helped this event endure, Shelly says.
The only times in 26 years Shelly has missed Lighting of the Green were three years when she was living in Jerusalem during a service assignment with Mennonite Central Committee.
All are invited to join in the Lighting of the Green Dec. 4. For more information, call 316-284-5356.