Monday, October 31, 2005

Isogel on the Altar

Okay. So this retreat for which I was on the leadership team this weekend includes communion on each of the three days. The pastor who was head of the clergy team, in whose church the retreat was taking place, was fanatical about each of the three of us clergy slathering our hands with Isogel before handling or distributing the elements. To be sure we didn't forget, he stashed a small squirt bottle of the stuff behind the base of one of the large candlesticks on the communion table.

This is a pastor I've know, albeit distantly, for fifteen years. From my limited experience and hearsay evidence of him he is a very sane, wise leader not given to fits of eccentricity. But this seemed a little over the edge to me. Now, anyone will tell you I am not Ms. Clean. However, I've always thought that if you practice basic good hygeine and are not actually ill, you needn't worry excessively about the germ factor in communion. If anything, the officiant is more likely to catch something from a communicant than the other way around. So--should we hand Isogel to one of the elders and ask EVERYONE to squirt and slater on their way to receive??

Maybe my reaction is more one of aesthetics than hygiene. Or maybe it's theology. Whoever said communion was safe and hygenic anyway??


cheesehead said...

I'm with you on this. Unless one regularly does not practice decent hygeine OR unless one is aware that a person in the congregation is particularly immune-supressed/immune-compromised, I just don't see the reason for hand sanitizer at Christ's table.

I think the snac-pack communion is the next step down that slipery slope.

reverendmother said...

I couldn't agree more with you both. This came up recently at Songbird's place as well.

It does bring up some interesting thoughts and images about preparing to come to the table. It is interesting to think about how we all prepare for the sacrament. There's such an emphasis away from our church history of "fencing the table" and giving out communion tokens (which I'm glad of!), but is there a way to reclaim the practice of repentance, of praying for a "clean heart" in preparation for receiving the sacrament?

I don't know. I'm way off on a tangent with that. Isogel seems like something else altogether--something about sanitizing a person from one's brothers and sisters whose pesky germs are "the enemy".

Lorna said...

interesting this :)

I had to work out what isogel is.

do you think he's worried about the bird flu or something?

not sure what revmother meant about communion tokens - can someone explain

what IS interesting is that talks about eucharist are cropping up again and again just now. God's up to something :) and that IS exciting!

tell more about your weekend ...the isogel can't have been the highlight!

Songbird said...

We're talking again about moving to communion by intinction every month, rather than passing the little cubes of bread and teeny little cups. We almost made this change a year ago, but backed off after hearing the complaints of one older deacon, my friend, Mr. Crusty. Now he's moved his membership, even though we gave in and did it his way!
What does this have to do with hand sanitizer? Well, you can always tell the overly hygenic pastor the same thing Mr. Crusty told me: It's not the way they did it at the Last Supper!!

SpookyRach said...

'Cause obviously he was there - right, Songbird? ha ha!

I'm with Lorna - what are communion tokens?

Purechristianithink said...

Waaaaaaaaay back it was the custom in Presbyterian churches to celebrate communion quarterly. Prior to each Communion Sunday, the elders would visit each household and determine each members' readiness to receive the sacrament. The who were deemed to be properly spiritually disposed to receive were given tokens, usually wood or pewter, to present at church on communion Sunday before they approached the table. These folks took very seriously the scriptural warning that those who "eat and drink unworthily drink condemnation upon themselves."

Anna said...

Wait, he rubs his hands with sanitizer IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SERVICE?!

I'm stunned. What exactly is the liturgical symbolism of that? "Come not near me?" Or is just that he doesn't see a problem with breaking up the service to slather on a little gel? My liturgically-minded priest would have a conniption, before or after she laughed her head off!

I gotta say, the mind boggles.

Sue said...

I have a colleague whose entire congregation is elderly. I mean everyone. And most of the time they are either ill or could easily become ill.

She did have some concern about communion, as they had been serving by intinction. So she included in the liturgy a ritual of handwashing, where she speaks of servant-hood and refers to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

As this liturgy is happening, she is washing the leading elder's hands, and then she/he washes hers in a bowl that is set off to the side of the communion table.

Takes care of any germy concerns and stands up theologically too. I've never tried it, but it is a nice liturgy.

Gord said...

LAst tiem we had communion (WorldWide Communion Sunday) I was fighting a heavy cold. So during the hymn immediately preceding communion I, as unobtrusively as possible, used sanitizer on my hands.

Also, when I am ill I will use it before shaking hands at the door (and again after coughing/sneezing during that period). Just as a precaution. But only when I am ill.

Sophia said...

I'm with Anna on this one - I'm absolutely STUNNED!

Guess he should avoid my home OR my internship congregations, where we share a common chalice (as most Episcopalians do.) Also, the celebrant washes her hands, but only ceremonially - and this is AFTER exchanging the Peace with the entire congregation!

That's really interesting about communion tokens. I never knew that before.

Gord said...

Actually studies have shown that common cup, when used with alchohol containing wine and wiped after each use (with a cloth that is folded and/or turned between wipings) is less "infectious" than intinction. Invariably with intinction (or rip and dip) fingers touch the liquid and hands are the worst for passing stuff on.

Purechristianithink said...

This pastor seemed to think it was important to visibly disinfect before communion to reassure the congregation that all was safe and hygenic. I'm not serving a congregation as of last month, am I missing something? Are church boards all abuzz with concern about Killer Flus?

susan said...

It is an issue for some of the elderly folks, and I've known of churches to find a tasteful dispenser the equivalent of other liturgical church's pitchers for washing with water. At one church I served, the senior pastor kept baby wipes in a plastic baggie under the altar cloth and we wiped our hands with them. I had to suppress a giggle every time we used the liturgical baby wipe. I tend to be more amused than appalled at such things because God's grace overcomes.