Alternate cups for communion

I mentioned recently how a Dopp kit would be a good case for carrying communion supplies for home or hospital and an alternative to the junk so often sold by church supply houses. I mentioned I had an alternative for communion cups, too.

I can’t find a good generic term for what I have in mind. They are sets of stacking metal cups, probably for spirits, and intended (I gather) for traveling or camping. They almost always have a leather case, and most of the ones I’ve seen were made in Germany. They’re not new, and not West Germany, so perhaps pre-war? I have three sets, pictured above and below. The set with a black case only has two cups, but the case is surely synthetic (better for us vegetarians) and is new; this set was made in China. The largest set only has three cups, and they’re large. Not ideal.

 

One reason this might be a good option is that you, someone you know or someone in your congregation may already have a set of these cups. I got the black-cased set as a groomsman’s gift, with (I believe) with a flask. That’s a pretty common gift, speaking to how many may be out there.

But if you want to buy one? You can get sets on eBay: this current set in Tiffany silver (!) would be nice, if expensive. This old set on Etsy is more practical. If these stacked, it would be another good and appealing option. Also these, if they weren’t so darn expensive.

Dopp bag for communion

Last month, I wrote “In place of cheap church gear” and now let me suggest you use an old Dopp bag (or Dopp kit, or shaving kit) to keep your portable communion kit. The kit itself can be assembled from Nalgene-type bottles for the bread and wine. The other vessels (and linens and candles, if any) would depend upon your tradition. (I will have one suggestion for the free churches later.) A Dopp bag can carry all of these plus a small service book, orders of service or both.

Why? Because they’re a handy size, “read” as a case, and are easy to come by –indeed, you may have one or have one given to you.  I own three, including a grandfather’s leather kit which — apart from the sentimental value — has the added feature of being firm-sided to protect the contents. Dividers, sewn from sturdy cloth, or fashioned out of foam rubber would keep the individual pieces from jangling if there aren’t linens enough to meet this need.

Don’t serve communion? Consider a Dopp kit for storing and carrying the candles and bobeshes (protectors) for a candlelight vigil or Christmas eve service.

 

In place of cheap church gear

Hubby and I wandered into a well-known church supply house on Saturday.  I was struck by how shabby so much of the gear and books looked. Were the 1980s and 1990s the high mark for church design?  Must everything come in plastic.

Consider the home communion set made of a plastic clamshell box (which will surely wear badly), containing the kind of plastic bottle one would carry shampoo while travelling in (for the wine), another thin plastic tub containing thin plastic cups, and a tiny spun aluminum vessel with a tight fitting lid — serving as something between a pxy and a ciborium — for the wafers. The price for this disaster? $80.  It was neither large enough to be useful not small enough to be tucked into a handbag or laptop case. Of course, there are also fine church artisans, but it’s hard to justify so much a premium on goods when church budgets are under such pressure. And frankly, do we need another generation of neo-Gothic, neo-Byzantine or neo-Colonial whatsits?

I’ve written before about how church goods should be fairly sourced, and how secular goods can be repurposed for church use.  For the next little bit I will consider alternatives of the economical parson who wants well-made and tasteful equipment. And I’d like your help if you have ideas.

Imagining the lovefeast as a universal feast

Tonight and tomorrow night, millions of Jews will observe the Passover: a celebration of God’s deliverance from slavery. I’ve never been to one, tempting as family associations and food are. (I have, in my college days, had leftovers shared with me.) I’m OK having never attended a seder, and I would be just as happy to be invited into a Jewish home for it. I’m happy to be welcomed as a guest it and not be offended if it should never happen (my interest in haggadot and horseradish notwithstanding) because it isn’t my feast. I’m a Christian and not a Jew.

As a Christian, I recognize the liturgical and spiritual dependence of the Lord’s Supper on the Passover, and — at the risk of sounding anything but matter-of-fact — that’s good enough and close enough for me. And this is especially close to my heart as we approach Maundy Thursday, the one time in otherwise no-longer Christian Unitarian and Universalist churches that you might find it.

But it makes me think, too, the responsibilities Christians have when we do have, or share, or receive — the verbs are difficult — the sacrament at the table. A phrase I’ve seen Universalists use historically to invite others to the table is that it is open to all who see it “a privilege or a duty” so to do. Communion, at a basic level, is a matter (among other things) of Christian discipleship, and this is obscured when an invitation is made very broadly in the spirit of inclusivity. I’m not suggesting the table be fenced, but rather that the facts are disclosed to participants don’t practice something they didn’t intend. There’s a lot of subtext in worship, and that’s not a fair burden to put on the innocent. Especially if there are members of the congregation who have been attentively evangelized (see above.)

Better, I think, to revive or institute a service that, while coming from a theological point of view, is intended to be of equal access to all-comers. I think Unitarian Universalists like and create these services, but frankly they are often strangely named — anything with communion comes to mind, as my husband will tease me — or are liturgically awkward. Let me pitch for the Lovefeast, which has a quasi-eucharistic character, but has stronger focus on blessing and a real meal. (The Universalist drew from some of the Lovefeast-holding German sect, and in 1790 made its observance optional on all Universalists.) And which is not so owned widely known (except perhaps in areas with many members of Church of the Brethren) as to confuse newcomers. Or, use an agape meal form, but cast it as a Meal of Universal Blessing, where the form is one of blessing we ask to be given to ourselves and all others, and objectively state it is in addition to, and apart from the Lord’s table. Knowing I wasn’t overstepping, over-reaching or over-promising might be the real welcome some people need.

Software for that comparative liturgy project

A few days ago, I suggested a common dependence on Frederick Henry Hedge’s translation of the Liturgy of St. James for Unitarian, Universalist and Free Christian communion practice. Rashly I said would create a parallel text showing this development if I could find the software to typeset it.

I think I found what I was remembering: the parcolumns LaTeX package, in part because it can handle more than two columns in parallel. Shall test it, sooner or later, but I thought this tool would be helpful for others making liturgical comparisons.

As I proceed, I’ll also note which LaTeX graphical user interface (GUI) I’ve chosen, ’cause there’s no way I’m doing this in a plain text editor.

A common communion use in Unitarian, Universalist and Free Christian churches

Something for me to put a pin in, and for perhaps someone else.

I suspect that most of the common, historic Unitarian, Universalist and Free Christian communion rites — those descended from King’s Chapel excepted, but including James Martineau’s — can be traced back to Frederick Henry Hedge’s translation of the Liturgy of St. James.

This would be a helpful hint in trying to improve those rites with integrity.

It would also be interesting to see when this liturgical influence was adopted, and when it was dropped. I think this task would be helped by the right bit of typography, to make the development more clear.

Say no five times (sure to irritate everyone)

Two weekends ago, Hubby and I went to IKEA, going most of the way by subway. On the ride, we made a list of habits and practices that we would not accept in the new church. In a low moment, we thought the church just might as well have no people — that’s one way to fix the problem! — but we regained our composure over lingenberries.

But on reflection, there are some things that I will insist on. And I’m sure I don’t have a single reader who will agree with all five. Here goes.

  • No flaming chalice. Apart from being a Unitarian (that is, not Universalist) emblem, the rituals associated with what could be a simple lamp-lighting have gotten too often sectarian and even a bit creepy.
  • No Sunday School. This is a mode of faith formation who’s time has passed. There have to be better options, especially considering the space and liability demands it brings. One of many reason I read Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Dan Harper.
  • No liturgically-collected financial offering. We’ll take money, and perhaps even on Sunday if there’s no fuss, but if it really is “the sacrament of the free church” then we need to revisit our ecclesiology and class assumptions. And I don’t know a single young person who carries checks; some don’t even have any, and I’m not betting on bills with zeroes on them. Hint: they do use PayPal, Google Checkout and the like. Plus it probably causes more anxiety among guests than the good it creates. Heck, the last time Hubby and I were in church together, the usher passed us by. There’s no winning with this.
  • No membership book. That is, a literal book. Again, this isn’t 1830.
  • No children’s story in worship, also known as “a quaint tale for the sake of the adults using minors as set pieces.” And, on a personal note, at 6-foot-4, I’d have to be folded into thirds to be anywhere near the wee ones.

Whew! that’s a load off. And to think there are still some people who think I’m a traditionalist crank. (I’d add “no fattening snacks with coffee” but that might cause a riot.) Now, surely you can see how reasonable that all is, no?

IKEA for communion ware

snaps glasses It’s been almost five years since I’ve written about using items from the Swedish dry-goods store IKEA for ecclesiastic purposes, but then Hubby and I don’t own a car anymore and it takes an effort to get to our nearest outlet.

But we did so yesterday, and enjoyed ourselves down to the meatball-free dinner in the cafeteria. I even had lingenberries for dinner tonight.

There I saw a cute set of little glasses — they called them snaps glasses; how Swedish —  but they were pleasingly domestic for a low-church communion set. Not as tiny as those normally used for communion, and not as wasteful as plastic. Probably cheaper, too, at less than $3 for six. And less off-putting for those, like me, who get queasy at the thought of someone’s fingers bathing in the common cup during the ostensibly more-hygienic practice of intinction.

Alas, if you want these, you’ll have to go to the store yourself. They don’t ship these. They also call for some kind of tray, but more about that later.

POKAL snaps glasses

An old reflection on what it means to be a Universalist church

A continuing concern of mine is what makes a Universalist church Universalist. I’ve gotten hints from liturgies and speeches, but nothing helps so well as polity documents, which tell more than they intend.

So when I found the badly-typeset 1873 constitution and bylaws of the (extant) Halifax, Nova Scotia Universalist church, I was touched and interested by its combination of boilerplate and local additions. There’s quite a bit to unpack within it, so first the document itself, below the fold. I welcome unpacked observations, and I’ll be adding my own in the comments, too.

Continue reading “An old reflection on what it means to be a Universalist church”

A familiar profession from the Brazilian Unitarians

Even though I took Portuguese as my required language at the University of Georgia, I never really got the hang of it, and so after twenty years I go to Google (rather than my own skill) to read the site of the Congregação Unitarista de Pernambuco, no Brasil. That is, in Brazil. (And that’s about all I can do.)

They seem to come from the mellow Unitarian Christian end of the tradition: the one that any number of New Englanders would recognize, at least in theory or in Portuguese. Seeing a Communion liturgy “for home and hospital” I was quick to get a translation. The first line of their affirmation or statement of faith goes:

LÍDER: Não estamos sozinhos. Vivemos no mundo de Deus.
Leader: We are not alone, we live in God’s world.

I thought that looked pretty familiar. Indeed, the whole thing maps to the United Church of Canada’s “New Creed” — that is, up to near the end, when Unitarian theology and habit takes over. The Canadians “proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope” while the Brazilian Unitarians “proclaim the message of Jesus, our model of unconditional love.”

I’ll take either, and hope to hear more from this interesting group.