The flaming chalice, a chalice
burning a candle
or oil, is the most common symbol
/ Unitarian Universalism
It was originally adopted during World War II. The reverend Charles Joy, who was then the director of the Unitarian Service Committee, (an organization which seeks to do good in the world, separate from but affiliated with the church movement) was running a secret network of couriers and agents to help Eastern Europeans who needed to escape the persecution of the Nazis. He felt that the USC - which was a new organization then, founded in 1941 - needed a logo to represent themselves to the world, to lend credence to their communications with governments and others, because in this case people's lives were very literally on the line.
The first flaming chalice symbol was designed by Hans Deutsch, an Austrian artist who was forced to flee his Paris home when the Nazis invaded, because he had drawn editorial cartoons about the nazis in the 30s. He met up with Joy in his Lisbon headquarters and was impressed. He designed the chalice emblem after the sort of chalice greeks and romans would put on their altars, and the flame burning holy oil within represented the spirit of helpfulness and sacrifice that he saw in the USC. He said at the time of it:
"There is something that urges me to tell you... how much I admire your utter self denial (and) readiness to serve, to sacrifice all, your time, your health, your well being, to help, help, help.
"I am not what you may actually call a believer. But if your kind of life is the profession of your faith---as it is, I feel sure---then religion, ceasing to be magic and mysticism, becomes confession to practical philosophy and---what is more--to active, really useful social work. And this religion--- with or without a heading---is one to which even a `godless' fellow like myself can say wholeheartedly, Yes!"
His symbol was adopted by the USC in Boston and was used for letterhead and badges for agents in europe helping refugees to escape. In time it became known worldwide as a symbol of Unitarianism.
Many Unitarian churches begin their services by lighting a candle or oil in a chalice to symbolize "..the flame of peace and love.." that winds its way through our principles and our lives.
most of this information was gleaned from the UUA's website at www.uua.org, where more details may be found.