August 26, 2022 – Sneaking Communion and Priestly Blessings
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16, NIV).
“Now I lay me down to sleep…”
I looked up at my dad, sitting beside me on the bed, and recited that prayer every night.
When I was a little older we switched to the Lord’s prayer.
It was a ritual we never missed. Every single night, my dad was with me as I said my prayers.
And because of that ritual, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God.
Until I was about ten, we were members of First Baptist Church of Washington, Pennsylvania, and we went every Sunday. My happiest memories are of us sitting up in the balcony and Dad splitting his tiny communion bread square with me, along with a sip of the grape juice from his little cup. He would always give it to me on the sly, like it was our little secret. The only other thing I remember from our time there was that the pastoral prayer, which I affectionately called the long prayer, seemed to go on forever.
We didn’t stay long enough at that church for me to take communion because when I was around ten or eleven, we left First Baptist and joined Trinity Episcopal Church. My mother grew up in the Anglican church, so it was a natural move when we decided to leave First Baptist.
Switching from Baptist to Episcopalian was an epic culture shock. I went from a spectator sitting in a balcony, sneaking illicit communion bread and juice with my dad, to being an active participant in the worship service: standing, then sitting, then kneeling, then sitting and kneeling again, all the while reciting the liturgy in the appropriate places.
I told my parents after our first service: “Their long prayer is really long!”
There were strange practices, too. I was told to genuflect (sort of a quick, one-kneed half-kneel) toward the crucifix at the altar when I crossed in front of it. Some of the people made the sign of the cross. The ladies wore hats or head coverings.
And it was quiet.
No conversation before or during the service. It was so silent, I found it a bit spooky.
But the worst part (for me at least) was that I couldn’t sneak communion anymore.
Instead, I had to walk all the way to the front and kneel at the altar to receive communion. But I wasn’t old enough, so my mother told me to cross my hands over my chest and keep my head bowed when we all knelt at the altar.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the priest come down the line of people. As he got closer and closer, I swallowed, dry-mouthed, and my stomach felt queasy. What was he going to do? Would he tell me I was too young to be at the altar and make me walk back to my seat?
I hoped that he would just ignore me and pass on by, but he didn’t.
He stopped, put a hand on my head and said, “The Lord bless thee. Amen.”
A shiver ran down my spine. There was a comforting warmth in his touch that I liked.
Something changed in me that day.
I had been an observer in the balcony. I believed in God, but it didn’t extend much past reciting “Now I lay me down to sleep,” or “Our Father who art in heaven.” God was mostly a concept.
With a simple touch and the priest’s words, “The Lord bless thee,” God was no longer abstract. He became real.
And my journey had begun.
Next Week: Childish Faith
All Posts in this Series: A Deconstruction Observed