“Have you ever used spoons?”
“Spoons, what do you mean?”
“You’re joking, right?”
One of the wonderful things about Christ’s church is the variety of ways in which congregations in various places do the same things differently. One need only say the word “baptism,” to start a passionate debate among churchmen (and women) about what constitutes “the right way” and the “right time” to baptize someone.
And, as one might expect, there is equal passion for the Lord’s Supper.
Here in Scotland I have encountered some additional alternatives that might be surprising to my American readers.
The first is the use of the common cup. Prior to my repatriation I’d never heard of anyone using the common cup for communion. Americans have for at least a hundred years, been far too squeamish about hygiene to even consider sharing a single cup with one another.
But, the common cup remains for many congregations, vital to the meaning and experience of the sacrament; my own church is one of them.
Our Session Clerk explained, “Cadzow (KAD-zoh) has always used the common cup. We’ve gone round and round with those who want to move away from its use, but so far the Session has remained firm on the matter.”
Recently, with the threat of swine flu, the issue came up again with stern warnings from the General Assembly about the dangers of transmitting the unpleasantries.
Several church members asked once again about making a change.
Our Clerk offered further explanation.
“We use a silver chalice and fortified port wine (40 proof). Doctors have informed me that the combination makes it highly antiseptic. Besides, no one ever complains about the passing of the bread. Everyone’s got their hands all over the bread. Why not raise issue with that?”
Who was I to argue?
However, I’ve joked that, as the one sitting immediately to my left for the sacrament, he always gets the first sip.
The Session responded to the complainants that it was tradition at the church to use the common cup and, at evening community services the individual method is practiced, thus providing an alternative. Therefore, things would remain the same as Cadzow.
The other two churches we join with for our quarterly community service both use the “tiny cup” method.
Last night the service was held at Cadzow and, as a concession to the other congregations, we used the individual method. But, we don’t have any tiny cups; we used spoons instead.
I’m not sure when the use of individual spoons was first developed, but it seems like a reasonable compromise. The common cup is still used, but it is touched by no unclean lips. Participants simply pick up the silver spoon clipped to the pew in front of them and scoop out a lovin’ spoonful of Christ’s blood.
It was my first time and I think, the first time for many of the saints in attendance. I gave them a few instructions: try not to slurp your wine, be careful not to spill it down your front, and remember the spoons are not souvenirs so don’t take them with you. (Cadzow owns 237 spoons; we suspect that 13 have found their way to eBay over the years.)
Elders and ministers serving the sacrament still shared a common cup.
We apparently go though about £50 of port wine with each communion and it’s no wonder, we use the good stuff. With each sip, members look somewhat reluctant to pass it on to their neighbours, no doubt secretly hoping they might get the chance for a second taste. Experienced church goers make sure they get a big gulp at the first pass.
At the close of each communion service I sometimes think enviously of my Catholic and Episcopalian colleagues, who make it their work to finish the remaining wine. But, when I look at the oily sheen on the wine in the cup and the lipstick that often adorns the rim I think, “Maybe one sip was enough.”