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Messing Up Communion

August 8, 2014 - Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

A friend was telling me that he went to his nephew's wedding recently and labeled himself and his pew-mates as heathens because they "bungled communion."

I can relate.

I no longer take communion in churches where I'm not absolutely positive of the rules and regulations, and I no longer listen to the advice of my oldest son when it comes to being adventurous, doing now and asking questions later, and generally winging it. It was because of him that I found myself at a Byzantine church at the altar with my hands and mouth in the wrong positions and without the cover charge.

We were visiting family in Ohio during Easter and my son Mike wanted to experiment with different religions. I was up for it, since I, too, like to see how other people worship. I think religious differences are part of what makes this country so interesting. I guess that makes me the opposite of a Bible thumper. I'm more of a Bible holder-of-hands-around-the-world-singing-Kum-Ba-Ya-or-that-Coke-song. We found a Byzantine Catholic church in Struthers, two towns over from where my mom lived, so we decided to give it a try.

The first part of the service was great. Lots of singing. In fact everything was part of a song, chant-ily sung by three guys in the choir loft. I was enjoying the experience. And then it came time to take communion.

"I'm not going up," I whispered to Mike, who was next to me. "I'm thinking they probably have some different way of doing it. I don't want to do it wrong."

"What? Oh come on!" Mike was getting ready to stand up. "Just do whatever the person in front of you does." I could already tell that he was excited in that something's-bound-to-go-wrong-and-it's-going-to-be-so-cool way.

Doing whatever the person in front of me does, isn't easy for me, because I'm short and I couldn't see what was going on with the tall person in front of me. So in line, I peeped my head to the side and I saw what looked like a mama bird feeding her babies. The priest had silver tongs and was picking up little cubes of bread from a sugar bowl and dipping them in wine in a cream pitcher and then holding them up and dropping them into the upturned mouths of the Byzantines.

This was both good and bad news to me.

Good news, because I didn't have to worry about what to do with my hands. The Byzantines crossed their arms in front of their chests while they waited for Jesus. There didn't seem to be any other options.

Bad news, because the baby bird method seemed like a choking hazard. And we all know how I feel about choking. (No? I haven't blogged about that yet? I will. In the meantime, chew - carefully and slowly - on this: I actually considered going to therapy before having children, because I was already afraid of my future children choking on a hot dog, given to him/her by a clueless but dangerous future family member. While eating, I used to be overwhelmed with anxiety about any children in the house who might choke. No children there? I'd worry about a child somewhere, anywhere, even in a country in Africa or a Pacific island that I didn't even know existed who might be choking at the time. After all, it's dinnertime somewhere. Get the picture?)

So when it became my turn up at Byzantine communion, I didn't tilt my head back far enough and the priest hesitated a little bit. It occurred to me that maybe I was supposed to say something before I assumed the baby bird position, but by that time, if I had started to talk, surely he would choose that moment to release the tongs and there could be a bouncing-off-the-lips situation. I did not want to be responsible for that caliber of a screw-up, so I just stood there, my arms gripping across my chest, my mouth gaping open, my eyes closed.

And then it was over. OK, good, done. What - wait, what's this next station? There was an altar boy standing with a basket and people were putting money in it.

Money? I didn't know we had to pay! I didn't have any money with me - I trusted the Byzantines implicitly by leaving my purse unattended in the pew, something I always did in church. I figured if someone was going to steal from a sacred space, they should probably get it over with so they could get on with the redemption phase of their life.

I smiled innocently at the altar boy and passed him up on my way back to the pew.

"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Mike whispered.

"Are you kidding, that was horrible. I didn't pay!"

And then it happened again. Unbelievably. At the end of the service, instead of just filing out, people seemed to be getting in line and going up front again. At this point, I was a sheep, a simple cog in the Easter wheel and was just doing whatever everyone else was doing. I was already in line and unable to turn around when I saw they were taking more money, again! I realized that even though I had my purse with me this time, I didn't have any more cash. I use a lot of credit cards, normally, and had put the last of my cash in the collection plate, because I thought that was the normal, standard way to collect money from church-goers, not this basket-at-every-turn nonsense.

So up we went, me at the head of this hapless family, clearly not Byzantine and pitifully steeped in credit card debt. I got my blessing and smiled innocently at the altar boy with the basket. Remember me? The one without any cash on her? Hello again!

As we fled to our car, I told the kids I was going to drive slowly out of the parking lot so everyone could see we had out-of-town license plates.

I hear some churches are keen on taking online credit card payments instead of the envelopes of the past. The Byzantines might want to consider an altar boy with an iPhone and a Square app for the unprepared out-of-towners.

~ ~ ~

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick is the author of Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves. Her Just Humor Me column runs here on her website at


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