Thursday, January 29, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Chihuahua makes assistance at first home-served Communion memorable
Will Berger and Sally Hughes, pastor friends of mine in Franklin, Tenn., told me Sunday that they were going out that afternoon to take Holy Communion to church members who were infirm and unable to join the congregation at morning worship. This is a lovely custom which is falling into disuse in some quarters. It is, however, a practice which requires some ability to innovate, as the minister does not have all the furniture and furnishings that are present in the church to make the occasion comforting and impressive. A coffee table or hospital tray must serve as an altar, the large communion chalice is replaced by a small vessel — which may be difficult for an ill or elderly person to grasp, and there may be interruptions from the household or hospital staff. Still, clergy are happy to perform this ministry whenever it is requested.
And I could not help warning my friends of a certain mishap that occurred on the occasion of my first opportunity to assist in the administration of Holy Communion. We went to call on a fine, elderly couple who lived near the church, and whom I loved.
All the children of Cleveland, Mississippi, knew the wife of this couple, even if they did not know her name. Mrs. Janette Smith-Vaniz had been the head of our school cafeteria, and I remember with great fondness her hamburgers, chicken and dumplings, turkey and dressing at holidays, and above all those wonderful yeasty homemade rolls!
Our minister was given to lengthy and sonorous prayers, and we were treated to one of these as the bread and wine lay spread before us on the coffee table in the front parlor of the Smith-Vaniz home. I did think the prayer was getting rather long for folks who were so frail — but everyone had their heads bowed and eyes closed — except me.
Dog fancier that I am, I was interested in the couple’s little black Chihuahua who was part of the family circle.
With almost feline stealth, the little dog had hopped up on the low table, and while our pastor prayed, was nibbling up the bits of consecrated bread and lapping up the last drops of wine from the chalice, wagging her tail in innocent delight! I could hardly contain my laughter.
Now in some churches this could occasion a major theological discussion! In medieval times the theologians are supposed to have spilled a great deal of ink speculating what would happen should a mouse eat a crumb of the consecrated bread. Would the mouse go to heaven? Or would heaven’s wrath be incurred for such sacrilege? And there is a story from England in the long ago when in the middle of the service a dog ran into the church and stole the communion loaf from the altar, spoiling the congregation’s Christmas communion. This, and incidents like it are said to have been one of the purposes of altar rails. Of course there are no “rails” around coffee tables when the communion is administered in the home, and so the validity of such provisions is illustrated.
Well, our pastor and both the Smith-Vanizs were mystified when the prayers were ended and the administration of the bread and wine was attempted. Only the little dog and I knew the truth, and I wasn’t talking! Fortunately, there was more of both, and the little service was completed with all proper dignity. I trust my friends Will and Sally had no such difficulties as they went forth a-ministering last Sunday. But if they did, and if they are good at remembering, it will remind them of a truth I believe in with all my heart — that God has a sense of humor, and that even the antics of a little dog can remind us of the grace-filled care of our heavenly Father.
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