Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Blood of. . . . a Dangerous Slip? Sober Living in the World of Church

Why am I writing about my adventures with alcohol in the World of Church? Thank my beloved gal pal and sister in Christ, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn. 

Over on Facebook, Fran managed to generate comments on my post about GF Eucharist. Among them a well-meaning suggestion from someone about receiving only from the cup as a work-around to wheat-laced hosts. 

Uh, no.

Offering wine as the only option for Communion screws with people in recovery. Intinction ("what's the harm of a little dipping?") also screws with people in recovery. 

Even if you really truly believe that wine has really and truly substantially turned into the Sacred Precious Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ during the consecration, offering wine Sacred Precious Blood screws with people in recovery, especially those not in recovery long enough to know that even a whiff of blood wine could trigger a slip or full-blown bender. It also screws with those in recovery long enough to know all this.

(Thank me for not going on about church folk who should be in recovery. Legion.)

In the World of Church there's a universal code for "I'm not receiving the cup." It's standing with your arms crossed across your chest. Sometimes the instruction to do this appears in the bulletin or worship booklet; sometimes it's announced by the celebrant. In any event, it's universally recognized across denominations as meaning, "Go ahead and bless me but don't hand me the cup." 

Universally recognized. Except when it isn't. I, of course, have a personal story about this.

At the time I'd already put together well over ten years of continuous recovery. I'd even published a book with Hazelden about Twelve-Step recovery. While there was no way I'd receive from the cup, I wasn't unilaterally opposed to serving from it as a eucharistic minister. 

On mornings when I really didn't need to be smelling wine -- especially the cheap stuff bought in bulk by the parish -- I'd quietly ask the celebrant or deacon to let me distribute the host. A couple of times I turned to the EMOC next to me and say, "Please may we swap?" Never a problem.

So imagine my utter disgust with the 40-something priest who kept offering me the cup. This guy just couldn't or wouldn't get with the program -- pun intended. 

Father Passive Aggressive would offer me the cup even after I reminded him not to. He'd offer it to me even as I stood at the altar with my arms crossed. He'd offer it to me even if I stood, arms crossed, one marble step down from other eucharistic ministers. He kept offering it to me until the bright Sunday morning when I finally hissed through clenched teeth, "Get. That. Thing. Away. From. Me." 

Protestants get this right by offering grape juice as an option, although I don't receive that either, mostly because Crest Whitestrips are pricey.

And yes, I receive Communion at Protestant churches. As someone raised Jewish and baptized, I consider my sacred right and privilege to receive anywhere, everywhere, and anytime  Repeat after me: "We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins....We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church."

Last but certainly not least, buy my book. I'm sure you know someone in the World of Church who needs to sober up from something. Relative to that, stay tuned for my forthcoming post about binge-watching stuff on Netflix.


  1. Excellent post!
    As a "professional religious" person, I tend to growl at priests and Eucharistic ministers who don't get it.

    There are other reasons, not to take the cup. Maybe someone has a contagious disease (flu, for starters) or an impaired immune system (like during chemotherapy, for example). I have been known to stare into a clueless celebrant's eyes with my lips pressed tightly shut and emphatically shake my head from side to side.

    Thanks for speaking to this very important issue.

  2. Meredith, thank you for undertaking this topic; one that I am keenly aware of. Your authority of experience here is significant to the story.

    If a Eucharistic Minister in my parish does not wish the wine, they simply take one step back; no arm crossing required. Very. Simple. Clearly not so simple elsewhere.

    I am left sitting here with another bout of pondering of why "no means no" is not understood. Another addiction related issue - boundaries not respected. *sigh*

    Thanks for your candor and your insights. You are a gift to the church and to the world. And Church is what we are together, my friend.

  3. Meredith, you have an incredible gift with words. Thinking back on my Protestant days, you wouldn't have had to worry about Crest Whitestrips because the grape juice was watered down so much that it had very little colour!! Perhaps that isn't the normal procedure but the churches where my former spouse served must have been rather thrifty!

  4. Fran,my darling: If "no" meant "no"in the world of church, we might not have the horrifying history of abuse (in all denominations).

    Knot Telling: Growing is good, also staring down the clueless. I chose hissing through clenched teeth. My next step was smacking him.

    Lynda: Yeah but the grape juice plus all the coffee during social hour? Whitestrips!! xx

  5. I once crossed my arms at communion and the priest briefly forgot what to do. When he remembered, he "blessed" me by smacking my forehead so hard I blew back a few feet. I was shocked, but later thought it hilarious.

  6. I'm grateful for the practice of all the communion ministers receiving last, after the congregation has been served. Any number of folks in the parish are in recovery, including some eucharistic ministers, but whether or not they receive the cup, no one notices.

    In the communion line, lots of people approach the host with arms crossed: children who haven't yet celebrated First Eucharist, non-Catholic partners/visitors, you name it. Our presiders make no secret about their place in recovery.

    We've had gluten-free hosts for quite a while, but most recently have a designated station with a eucharistic minister who serves only those hosts.

    It doesn't take much to make communion of both types accessible to everyone.

  7. I am an Episcopal Priest with 50 years in recovery.
    The problem is not only clergy who have no idea of what even a sip or the waft of cheap wine will do, the eucharistic ministers are sometime clueless.
    I have had a pushing match with some who hell bent to distribute the elements come what may.
    I was counseled by my seminary spiritual director that by kissing the cup I would be reverencing what the cup symbolized.
    He had more years than me so I took it as a way for me to fully participate.

  8. John: I've recently encountered the option of kissing the cup. Lovely way to participate if getting a whiff of wine isn't an issue.

    Added to the challenge is the anonymity issue, which some in recovery take to mean never tell anyone anything. Fortunately, I had a sponsor who taught me to be sensible about when and if to break my anonymity. Took well over a decade for me to figure that out because the meme about my "best thinking" kept ringing in my head!

  9. Might this be just one of the many reasons those in recovery so often avoid communion and church? How can we (as church) get beyond these awkward moments and serve those who come to the altar rail with grace?

  10. Good question, Lecia. Part of it has to do with awareness and education, but also infusing church with a spirit of (more) hospitality. It's a challenge!

  11. With regard to Protestants and grape juice (and I was raised Presbyterian)I wonder whether they could be persuaded to use white grape juice?
    And my own story, since I prefer to intinct? I lifted the wafer to dip it into the cup and the eucharistic minister took hold of it as well so that he could dip it FOR me. We had a brief tug of war before I conceded. On this point I must say that I preferred our Presbyterian ritual of Elders and Deacons handing trays of wine and bread to the person at one end of the pew, to be passed from one to another. It makes for a real community sharing of the meal.


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