Communion and COVID-19: historical perspective

As bad as the COVID-19 pandemic is shaping up, it’s not the first time Christians have had to factor “general sickness” into their church lives, including communion.

That typical low Protestant practice of using individual communion glasses comes from a fear of contagion, but also an ethical impulse, combined with a robust bit of Progressivist thinking.  Protestants of the late nineteenth century and before used a common cup. But fears of communicable disease (typhoid especially I think) prompted a Lutheran minister to serve the wine in individual glasses, and the practice was born. (And no, I won’t call them “shot glasses” or deride the practice as far too many high Protestants do. So don’t try it here.) Mind you: this is not my original research or thought, but comes from three decades of education and reading. I am probably getting some of the details wrong, but this is really to set the mood rather than recover a well-established field of study. (Also, I’m tired, like most of you.)

And this isn’t the first time churches have been asked to close, or else watch members die. The 1918 “Spanish” flu is out of living memory, but only just and was a terrible plague of the twentieth century. The point of our efforts — including a decision and announcement by the Church of England today, to suspend public worship — is to prevent a repeat. Of course, we have technology that we don’t. But he have inherited practices, too, including a curious one adopted (and now lost) by the Unitarians. More about that next time.

Remembering Nelson Mandela in D.C.

I live about a 20 minute walk from the South African embassy, so I went this afternoon to pay my respects following the death of former SA president Nelson Mandela.

My feelings are hard to put into words; he belongs to the ages. The world is so much better for his life and labor. The proof? Those who once denounced now try to claim him as a friend in death.

Walking up Massachusetts Avenue, a.k.a. Embassy Row, I noted how many embassies had their national flags at half-staff. At least a quarter; perhaps a third. I was not alone; there were enough people in foot — there’s no place to park, even if you have a car — to justify crossing guards.

Irish embassy
Irish embassy
Kenyan embassy
Kenyan embassy

Ongoing construction at the South African embassy made for a tight shrine. I got there just in time to sign the condolance book (inside the lobby) and then joined the small crowd, many of whom took photos or left flowers at the newly-dedicated statue of Mandela out front.

You have to do something when you make what — let’s call it what it is — a pilgrimage. You leave your signature, your thoughts (in the book, or on cards or with gifts) and a tribute of flowers. I brought my prayerbook.

SA embassy lobby, from outside
SA embassy lobby, from outside
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes

I’m left thinking of Mandela’s legacy, but also how churches observe something like the death of a great figure, or a great and lamentable disaster for that matter. And what do you do when there’s no obvious focus of the outpouring? The South African embassy is obvious in Washington, but “how does in play in Peoria?”

A change in blogging (wherein I blame the Quakers)

After seven and a half years of blogging, it’s time again to rethink “The Boy in the Bands” — if only in a limited, experimental way. Blog is short for web log; so what of logging my thoughts first on paper, and then letting them ripen a bit before transferring them to the web? (Case in point, I’m transcribing these notes from September 8th.)

Of course, I blame the Quakers. Wednesday, I attended dinner, Bible study, singing, open worship and fellowship with the Capitol Hill Friends, an independent Conservative-leaning worship group across town. For the second time. Not sure what to make of the experience — open worship in particular is quite a challenge for me — but I feel more grounded and faithful coming out of these evenings, and less inclined to grind out a few choice words just to say I got a blog post up. Besides, as other bloggers know, writing this way is quite time consuming and now I would rather read more — including the Bible, and John Murray (rather than John Woolman) — and pray more. And perhaps even sleep more. So even, dear readers, if I’ve not posted any given day, it may be because I developing something more substantial and not because I’m disinterested.

(But a side thought. A logbook can also be a a running log of work, warts and all. And I have some church tech projects in mind, too. So there might be the odd, unripe posting. And some quickly dashed “see here” notes. I make no promises for consistency. And I’m not trading in my bands for a broad-brimmed hat.)

Remembrance of policy past

Ought policy statements — particularly those related to public — of the Universalist Church of America (Universalist General Convention) and the American Unitarian Association inform the policy of the Unitarian Universalist Association today?

Since the UUA is the legal (and I’d add moral) successor to the UCA and AUA, I’d say yes, provided said policy statement isn’t a non-sequitor. After all, we have a legacy of at least 220 years of democratically-decided public policy. We should look back to it, and reflect.

Oh, one problem! So far as I know, it isn’t complied anywhere. And the minutes are devilishly hard to get. Oh, for a summer at the HDS library!

Web media should be accessible, too

Piggybacking on Kim Hampton’s first-things-first approach (do read it) to ability and accessibility, let me humbly ask that all producers of online audio or video media create a text transcript to accompany it.

This is a matter of access in these ways:

  • Some people cannot see and other cannot hear. Text allows people to read, to hear automated text reading and even to use Braille readers.
  • Some people cannot understand spoken words when mixed with music, recorded in a noisy space or with inadequate equipment.
  • Some people do not have sophisticated hardware or capacious bandwidth to receive media. Indeed, a text can be printed and carried without immediate access to an electronic device.
  • Some people cannot recall where a resource lives. A full text allows for (better) web searches.

It’s more work, of course, but it makes the media more valuable and probably more enduring. And while I wouldn’t expect it to be simultaneously published say, at General Assembly, I would want it to be part of the final copy.


Use your voice, less electricity to save mountains

Cranky Cindy wrote about mountaintop coal mining, and the environmental disaster is causes.

Universalist fun fact: the much-reported town deluged by coal ash, Harriman, Tennessee, was the site of the church extension project of the Young People’s Christian Union, a predecessor to Unitarian Universalist young adult ministries.

Not-so-fun fact: coal is not clean. It pollutes the air, and in mining districts it pollutes the water and soil.

And if you use grid electricity in the United States, you’re probably a part of the system that allows this to happen. That includes the power that runs my computer. So I try to use less, and learn more about mountaintop mining. Next comes the advocacy.

Last week, I attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco for work. One of the sessions I attended was about online mapping tools. One of the presenters was from, which uses maps and video to make the connections between mountaintop mining and your electricity.

Learn those connections. Use less electricity. Advocate for cleaner technologies and mining communities.

Praying for Barack Obama: why and how

Kim Hampton replied to my last post, writing:

It’s funny that you’re writing about this today. I’ve been thinking about fear for the past week or so (especially since Barack won in Iowa). I’ve worried the whole time that Barack has been in the race that he would get shot.

Yes, I’ve been harboring a fear about an assassination attempt against Sen. Obama. I’ve seen writing to that effect elsewhere, and it would be too easy to do given the way campaigns and crowds come together. And the historical record hasn’t been kind for Democratic presidential candidates, black political figures and Illinois senators with an eye on the White House.

Without getting deep into a theology of prayer, it seems reasonable for a group of people to pray for Sen. Obama’s health and welfare, and for God to bless him with wisdom and insight. In the same way, it seems out of bounds to pray for political victory. The first is a request; the second is an implied demand. The first can be asked for anyone; the second is particular and excludes others. The first seems like a reasonable petition of faithful people; the second smacks of hubris.

Yes, I want him to be president but not willing to sacrifice my values to see it happen. Please pray for Barack Obama’s health and welfare.

Organizing a(n) (un)conference, BarCamp style

I’ve been writing about BarCamp, Unconferences and Open Space Technology — but how do you do it?

[Later. I realized I haven’t written about BarCamp or Unconferences, but intended to introduce them before publishing this. “A BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment”– using the Unconference model, which itself is a looser kind of self-organizing meeting like Open Space. So far its mostly a techie thing, but there’s a skeptics BarCamp in Denver in August so the door has been opened to broader subjects. Got it? I’m thinking these might be good inspiration for the <snark> new “unaffilliates” </snark> and district and cluster meetings.]

I’d first recommend you read and bookmark/ the following:

Ten Steps to Organizing a Barcamp” (Clever, Clever Girl)

But since I found this link at the BarCamp site (BarCampsite?) you should look here, too. And share ideas you think apply here.

A calm unclouded ending, part 2: saving money for the funeral

Nobody wants to be a burden on their survivors and so the funeral insurance business prospers under the euphemism, “final expense protection.” Hubby and I are particularly drawn to the TV ad with an elderly woman dropping quarters into an expired parking meter. Time’s up!
You know there has to be a terrible catch and expense, and there has to be a better way. Savings, for instance.

Back in the day, simple funeral advocates recommended setting up a Totten trust, a simple bank-held fund that pays out to a trustee at your death. See the Wikipedia article. But since Totten trusts aren’t trusts per se but a dedicated account, and it seems like a lot of bother for what will be a scant few hundred dollars for a while, I was more than willing to follow my banker’s lead. Particularly since she had never heard of such a thing.

Banker: Why not set up a savings account, with a “payable upon death” designation?

Me: Will that work since the law doesn’t recognize Hubby and my relationship? He’d need the money pretty fast.

Banker: Sure. (But ask your banker, too.)
So when I came in the next day to set up my account, I used the lingo and said “I’d like to add a POD designation.” Easy as pie, and now I know if I’m spirited away suddenly, Hubby has fast access to some of my assets. And that does give me a little peace of mind.