A sip of water in the pulpit

Hubby and I visited a church for the first time this morning and witnessed something — a small thing, I admit — that we didn’t think looked right.

The minister and his liturgical assistants — four in total — drank water out of bottles, including one who drank water out of a bicyclist’s squeeze bottle. This looks bad. There’s no way to effectively drink from a bottle without bunching up your face into a pucker, which you might not notice on the street or office but is unavoidable when you’re in the pew and looking towards “the action.” It’s facial gesture you associate with a suckling babe or an unpleasant or tart taste. Because one normally doesn’t up-end a bottle in the pulpit, the drinking gesture is more akin to a nip from a hip flask. You don’t associate it with control, serenity or good production values.

A glass is better, and clear glass is less conspicuous. A bedside glass with matching pitcher or carafe seems like a good option. Or perhaps a travel mug without a handle, if tipping is a concern. I wouldn’t blanch at a clear wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle, if the congregation was reasonably sporty (or else if might look like you’re drinking from a canning jar, which itself might be appropriate in Muncie, Indiana, birthplace of the Ball jar.) [Later. See the comments for a cautionary tale about the Nalgene bottle.]

Oh, and don’t duck behind the pulpit and try to drink upside down. You’re not trying to cure hiccups. It takes longer and is more distracting than pulling the glass up to your mouth and drinking. Yes, I’ve seen you. Stop it.

19 Replies to “A sip of water in the pulpit”

  1. Would the Ball Jar be appropriate in historically Universalist pulpits? The Ball family included a large number of Universalists, and their canning jar wealth strongly backed the Universalist church in Muncie.

    In any case, I do remember when I was a seminarian, getting a sip of water from a paper cup I had hidden in a pulpit where I was guest preaching. After the service a retired minister in the congregation told me, “Don’t drink from a paper or styrofoam cup while in the pulpit. It can evoke images of trash in people’s minds, and doesn’t look at all classy. Use a small juice glass, and make sure it is clear and not colored glass. It’s a good tactic for keeping yourself hydrated, while also minimizing the potential of the glass to distract congregants from your sermon.

  2. Thanks Derek for replying. I’ll admit I thought of you, a certain party we shall call C.B. and the Ball family after the image of a Ball jar came to mind. Could it be I carry a mythic image of Muncie in my head?

  3. Wow. A squeeze bottle in the pulpit. Never seen that before….

    Due to some strange church politics, I wind up using clear plastic cups in the pulpit. But then, I have a very awkward pulpit that I have to deal with. Sigh.

  4. Drinking out of bottles in the pulpit, why not one of those hippy goat bladders and why not have the assistant shoot it from across the chancel, you know sort of like the Blue Man Group. No really that is very tacky. Paper cup have failed on me and dripped over everything, and I believe that when you drink out of an opaque cup you allow people to think “what’s really in that cup?”

  5. I drink a lot of water Sunday morning because I yell a lot (thanks to an interesting sound system, not because of rage or even the Holy Spirit (not, of course, because the HS isn’t at work)). A kindly Deacon donated two lovely stout Highballs. I am thinking of garnishing my water with mint after Memorial Day…

  6. okay, so I don’t drink water in the pulpit, but I do keep a bottle of water (with a screw-top lid, not the squeeze kind) up front for pre-sermon (or pre-liturgizing, depending on the day, since I’m an associate) hydration. Especially the last month, when I’ve been recovering from flu and having coughing issues, it has saved me more than once. A glass there would not work because of the space–I need something with a lid. Suddenly, however, I feel very self-conscious about it, though I am careful to only use it in emergencies or when people’s attention is elsewhere, and I turn slightly away when I need to sip…oh dear, I’ll be thinking about this tomorrow…(while someone else is preaching!)

  7. A coffee mug with a logo on it is also icky looking.

    But I’d caution against the wide mouthed nalgene bottle plan. I did it once, and only once. Because somehow I managed to pour half the bottle on my face and down my front.

    In the middle of a sermon.

    fortunately it was a class and not in front of a congregation. But it did get captured on video. very classy, let me tell you. did wonders for my ministerial authority.


  8. Teri and Dan — can you tell me more about your logistical situations. Perhaps there’s a product not marketed to ministers that would do.

  9. A comment from the other side of the altar rail. I live in Central California. During the late spring and early summer it can get hot and our church does not have air conditioning. The clergy have to sit up there under the direct lighting and I have seen that it can get pretty uncomfortable for them during the course of a service. We had an interim dean who gracoiusly gave his time to serve us during a search, however he was ill prepared for dealing with the heat. I provided him with a Camelback hydration pack. It fits neatly under vestments, the tube can be discretely clipped to a garment, and it can be filled with ice and water. Granted, it doesn’t help when you’re actually giving the sermon, but as soon as you are done you may be able to take a few discrete sips of cold water.

  10. I know the pulpit and its perils.

    Preaching in July in Georgia in an un-air conditioned church in a 100% polyester Geneva gown? Check.
    Preaching in Georgia (air conditioning this time) in the Big Black Dress with 103 degree fever? Check.
    Drooling through a Christmas sermon because you have Bell’s Palsy and you can’t feel half your face? Check, and icky.

    In each case, I managed with nothing more than a glass of water and a folded handkerchief: for blotting my brow or mouth, or as a cold compress. Short of an accommodation for a very frail or formerly heat-injured person — and I had octogenarians in that un-air conditioned church — I can’t think you’d need much more, and I would me mortified if someone knew I was wearing and drinking from an icy water bag in the pulpit. Adversity may not add to character, but it does add an incentive for briefer, tighter sermons.

  11. As important as the vessel holding the liquid is the manner in which the pastor takes a drink. Heaving a sigh and saying something like “Whoo! I am preaching myself to death!” in an effort to take away some of the awkwardness of pausing does nothing but draw attention to it. It is akin to the clergy sitting behind the pulpit, waiting to speak, and tittering and whispering among themselves. It creates a sense of exclusivity.

    A discreet sip, not a gulp, should be sufficient. And should be done without comment.

    I completely agree with you about the way drinking from those “sport bottles” makes an unpleasant face. Not just unpleasant, but unattractive. It always makes me think of Freudian views on oral fixation. Ew.

  12. I was a bike messenger for two years and would see posers in all the newest bilking gear using those camalbacks, there is no need other than they thought they looked cool. If you’re going to use one of those, why not go all the way and use a catheter?

  13. Hmm. Hank, I know you’re not saying that Camelbacks have no purpose other than to look cool. While I’ve never been a bike courier, I have ridden a few centuries and a simple bottle won’t cut it.

  14. I’ve drooled with Bell’s Palsy during a sermon. It wasn’t pretty. I used really nice hankies trimmed with the appropriate liturgical color.
    I say nice glass, clear with NO ICE CUBES to go clinking around. You don’t need to clink.

  15. I used a camelback when I walked a marathon nine years ago. Worked great for that. I can’t imagine wearing one to preach, though. There is still the issue of sucking as on a straw.

    I like to see ice cubes in the glass of water provided for me. It’s how I know this is fresh water and not the water left over from the week before – ice cubes don’t keep that long. They are usually mostly melted by the time I get up to preach anyway.

  16. Yeah, there’s nothing like that sinking recognition that the glass you just drank out of had been there seven days. Fortunately, the last time it happened, I happened to have been in the same seat the week before.

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