Thursday, October 30, 2014

Just Wash Your Hands, Okay?

A Common Household Apple Pie

On Monday, my son made an apple pie.  That night when I got home from my church meeting, the four of us sat down to have some pie, just like old times around our kitchen table.  I reported on my meeting.

Me:  Guess what we talked about at my meeting?  Do you know what communion by intinction is?

Husband:  It’s when you inject the wine into the congregation members.

Me:   No.

Son:  I thought a tincture was a mixture that included alcohol. 

Me:   There is no wine in the Presbyterian church.

Husband:   So is that why Jesus turned the wine into water?

Me:   What?!

Son:    If you turn wine into water you would get more molecules of water than of wine because of the molecular structure of the ethanol.  Since you have to maintain mass, there would be more water.

Husband:    The cup would be overflowing.

(Seeing that this was probably going to be a conversation I would want to remember, I left the room to look for a piece of paper.  By the time I came back, somehow the discussion had moved on to latkes.)

Son:    How can you use latkes for communion?


Husband:    It’s when you dip the latkes in the wine.

Son:    I thought you were supposed to dip things at Passover. 

Me:   There are no latkes in communion. 

YD:  Latkes are for Hannukah, not Passover.

Me:  Intinction is when you have one person holding a loaf of bread and another person holding a large goblet filled with grape juice.  Those people stand at the front of the church.  You walk up, tear a piece of bread off the loaf, and then dip it in the juice.  And then you eat it.

Husband:  No double dipping!

Me: Well, yeah.  That was what we talked about at the meeting.  The Presbyterian Book of Order says that communion by intinction is a perfectly acceptable way to do it.  But some people don’t like it. 

Husband:  What is the Book of Order?  Is that like the Presbyterian Talmud?

Me:   One reason they object to it is they think it will result in passing around germs.

Husband:    Ebola! 

Me: Some people might be thinking that, but I think mostly they don’t want to catch a cold.  Another reason they object is that they think it is not properly Presbyterian, but the Book of Order says it’s fine.

Husband:   I have a solution for the fear of germs: just take everyone’s temperature as they enter the sanctuary.  Like they are doing at some airports.

* * * * * * * *

Being me, I did some research online.  I didn’t want to just dismiss out of hand the concern about passing around germs during communion, or the issue of intinction not being properly Presbyterianish.  Here are my conclusions.

- There is some risk to picking up an illness through communion by intinction, but it is quite low. 

- There might be even less risk if we served the grape juice from a silver chalice rather than pottery.  Silver apparently has germicidal properties.

- There might be even less risk if we served wine instead of grape juice, because the alcohol content has some germicidal properties.  But 98% of Presbyterian churches serve grape juice.

- I suspect that risk of illness from intinction is less than the risk of illness you underwent when you put your hand on the church doorknob to open the door to go into the sanctuary.  Or, for that matter, the general risk to your well-being when you got in your car and drove to church. 

- The PC(USA) Book of Order, which is indeed the Presbyterian Talmud, recognizes communion by intinction as valid.  Note that the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) feels much differently. 

- Intinction is likely the way it was done at the time of The Johns (Calvin and Knox).  You can’t get much more Presbyterian than that.

- There are an awful lot of opinions, both scientific and theological, on this topic.

- I believe that God is present, somehow, in those communion elements of grape juice and bread.  It's a blessing for the congregation to join together, no matter by what method, to receive communion.  Some people find one method more meaningful than another.  I can participate in my less-preferred method because I know it has great meaning to someone else in the congregation, and hope that others would be able to do the same for me.

- Wash your hands, people.

- Quite possibly, the only good thing about this post was the pie.
Part of a retreat prayer walk: a reminder of the sacrament.
That's the closest I could get to a photo of communion.

The End

* * * * * * * *

Lengthy Appendix
This next part is just included here mainly for my good friend who has memorized the Book of Order, and for my own reference.

* * * * * * * *

Warning!  Sciency words and statistics ahead!

There are plenty of opinions out there on whether taking communion puts one at risk for a communicable disease.  There are even more opinions on what the communion serving methods mean, theologically, with some people adamantly opposed to one or another method.

The infectious disease aspect of communion has been pondered for over 100 years, basically since knowledge of infectious diseases developed.  There are also a few actual scientific studies.  Most of them concern everybody in the congregation drinking from the same cup. Some scientists advocated shifting from a common communion chalice to communion by intinction in order to avoid passing around nasty illnesses.

In 1995, Dr Anne LaGrange Loving, a microbiologist, carried out a controlled scientific study in which a procedure similar to communion by intinction was mimicked by 43 volunteers.  You can read the entire study here.

Here are some results from that study:
Seven individuals (16.3%) dipped their fingertips into the wine during the intinction process. In every case (100%), the following wine samples yielded no growth [of bacteria]. ….

The cultures of the entire amount of wine remaining in the chalice at the end of the samplings yielded no growth at all. …. 

Overall, the intincted wafer cultures yielded the same flora as the parishioners contained on their hands in most instances, indicating no greater risk to an individual than placing one's fingertips in one's mouth. ….

In 29 (67.4%) out of 43 cases, the bacteria which grew from the wafer were the same as those found on the individual's fingertips. Of those cases in which a different microorganism grew on the wafer than was on the individual's fingertips, it was usually Bacillus species. In two (4.7%) instances, a potential pathogen was found on the wafer of a person whose fingertips did not contain it (S. aureus). In one instance it might have been passed from the previous parishioner who was a carrier; in the other there had been seven individuals without S. aureus immediately prior.

All (100%) of the wafer cultures that were intincted by the minister yielded some growth, as opposed to 79.1% of those that the parishioner dipped for himself or herself. In two (4.7%) consecutive instances, a potential pathogen appeared on the wafers (Enterobacter cloacae), and in both cases the minister as well as the parishioner had touched their fingertips to the wine, and the minister had touched the lips of both individuals.

And the study’s conclusion :

Although intinction does not abolish all risk of infection to a parishioner, it does seem to reduce the risk over that of sipping from a common communion cup. Fingertips may contain fecal pathogens, but these do not always get transferred into the wine and thus to subsequent parishioners. Intinction by the minister appears to be slightly more risky. The cleanliness of the minister's hands seems to be a factor, as the intinction-by-minister cultures yielded more growth overall.

Dr. Loving also did a survey in 1997, and concluded:

No significant differences were found in the rates of illness among Christians who receive Holy Communion, Christians who attend church but do not receive the sacraments, and people who do not attend Christian services.  The only significant health factor found in this study was the presence of young children in the household, a commonly observed phenomenon.  Replications in other seasons and in different locales might be warranted to further test this question.  However, these data suggest that receiving Holy Communion as often as daily does not increase risk of infection.

On the appropriateness of communion by intinction in the Presbyterian Church (USA)
From The Companion ToThe Book Of Common Worship, Peter C. Bower, Editor,
Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
p 38-39

Going Forward to Receive Communion. The earliest Reformed method for Communion was for the people to approach the Lord’s Table to receive the bread and cup. “With Calvin, the people came forward as they had always done . . . one by one, receiving the bread from one Minister at one end of the table, and the Wine from another Minister at the other end.”17 In the English congregation in Geneva, John Knox had the people leave their places to sit at tables set up in the church. This practice continued in both Scotland and the Netherlands. Under the influence of the English Puritans, the Scottish church slowly and reluctantly moved toward receiving Communion in the pews, beginning in the mid-seventeenth century. Pew Communion provides an opportunity for Christians to serve one another; it also tends to reinforce the individualism and passivity that characterize many sacramental occasions.

At a minimum, congregations should try other serving methods than their present one as a way to add to the richness of receiving the Sacrament. As the Book of Common Worship indicates: “The people may gather around the table . . . the people may go to persons serving the elements . . . or the bread and wine may be served to the people where they are” (BCW 44).


Angie said...

Out Presbyterian church has been doing communion by intinction for years. We're all fine with it. It speaks to my environmental sensibilities. No little plastic cups in the landfill.

Angie said...

I meant Our Presbyterian church . . .

The Crislers said...

Interesting! I didn't know what commmunion by intinction was, but I did enjoy your family's conjectures and tangents. I always think it's fascinating to hear about other denominations' quibbles about relatively minor issues; they sound much like Lutheran and evangelical squabbling. I remember my infection control nurse mother FORBIDDING my sisters and I from drinking from the common cup in our Lutheran church. Heck, we weren't even allowed to share cups at home, much less with other dirty sinners.

And now I want pie.

Cassi Renee said...

I just love your family conversations.

The only reason to participate in communion is for the wine! :-)

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

As always, your family's conversations are so inquisitive and fascinating. I'm glad you post them.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Love the conversation. Tell us more:

I'm Presbyterian too, and we do it by intinction in my church too, although I forgot that's what it's called. There's a proper method though! (WHAT?) When you tear out a piece of bread you ONLY touch your piece, and then when you dip that bread, your fingers don't touch the juice. If anyone messes that up and their fingers touch the loaf or the juice in the cup, they have to stand in the choir loft with his or her back to the congregation for ten minutes.

(I made the last part up.)

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Your family discussions crack me up -- and sound suspiciously like some of the discussions at my own dinner table (back when we had more than 3 of us sitting at table).
My PC(USA) elder-husband hates the intiction because he's sure he's going to get a cold or worse from someone else. I should show him the results of your research.
Now what is the official stand of the bread vs. wafers? I know, I'm a church administrator and should know but TRUE CONFESSION: I haven't read the Book of Order -- I just order copies of it.
I ask because someone made the decision to switch to wafers (gag)(and they aren't even gluten-free) due to concern over the cleanliness of some homes where the communion bread was being cut pre-service. Most of us can't stand the wafers but now we have hundreds and hundreds of them to use up. Because instead of tearing bread and having communion by intinction, we go forward for little cubes of bread (now gag-inducing wafers) and tiny cups of juice.

Cheri's rule about the choir loft made me laugh.