Working up a communion set

A couple of blog posts ago I described communion cups used centuries ago and British Unitarian churches. Some were decidedly not of a typical chalice shape. I think the tumbler (beaker) shape deserves consideration.

Flexibility has benefits. A Christian minister might have to bring his or her own communion wear. But the affordable pieces are often shabby and a good stuff is extraordinary really expensive. The unreasonable choices a minister might make have led me to an unexpected suggestion.

  1. Communion ware should be affordable (though not necessarily cheap) and easy to maintain.
  2. Congruent in form with established practice.

I think I have something: a Japanese titanium tumbler. This one is from Horie.

You’ll excuse that it’s marketed for beer. It’s attractive, easy to keep clean, doesn’t have a metallic smell and is not commonly seen in the United States, so easy to distinguish for sacred service. It weighs next to nothing and is terribly strong; you don’t get both (or sometimes either) with pewter, which was formerly my favorite material for communion ware. It’s not tiny — a problem with “chapel sized” communion chalices — and you could even go a size down.

Downsides: they’re hard to get, and there’s no plate or basin to go with it. A rectangular wooden tray, perhaps of laminated wood, might do the trick.

I considered this question with individual cups several years ago.

What shape the communion cup?

Talk of the Annual Meeting of the (British) Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and noticing the communion service there this morning, put me in mind of an quaint old book.

Covered, handled chalice from Norwich, Octagon Chapel

The 1897 Vestiges of Protestant Dissent is something of register of British and Irish Unitarian, Free Christian, Non-Subscribing and kindred churches, with — and this is the part that amazes me — a listing of their communion plate. Much was then-new electroplate, but other pieces were quite old and noteworthy, so much so that several engravings were executed.

What fascinates me is the use of porringers, posset-cups, “loving cups”, mugs and tumblers (beakers), and not just the accustomed chalice: that inverted bell on a stem, sometimes a knop, and foot we all know and associate with the Eucharist. Posset-cup communion cup, Chichester

Many long-time readers know I have an interest in found communion ware, and lament the division of the communion ware market into the unaffordable and the tawdry. Which will bring me to what I think is an ideal communion cup for our days, and particularly for Unitarian and Universalist ministers — and indeed at least one in Vestiges — who have to bring their own. For next time.

I would love to see Universalist posters

Five Principles poster
Over the years, I’ve run across smallish, say 8×10 posters, with the Universalist “Five Principles” (click the link to download a copy) on them, clearly intended for domestic use and personal inspiration. And I know the Universalists were not opposed to the use of religious art in the home, and particularly with children, and particularly if the art was was sufficient quality. But more that this, apart from t-shirts, we lack the elements of material culture — the stuff — that develop a sense of belonging.

But this was an expensive endeavor, and I can imagine a publications manager, some decades ago, having masses of unsold, faded and dog-eared prints hauled to the landfill. Inspirational poster art has withered away among the Unitarian Universalists, probably everywhere else, too. But there’s no excuse for it.
NASA Mars "travel" poster

Anyone on Facebook knows there’s a market for it, it’s never been cheaper or easier to create the images, and print it. Or, for the first time, practically ask people to have it printed locally.

NASA just released a set of imaginative retro-futurist travel posters which could act as a model for a revived poster project. Or at least as an inspiration…

The end of church supply stores

I have a day off today and wanted to visit a church supply store, like I used to do. If I could only find one. There are a couple left in the inner metro D.C. area: dusty, shabby affairs featuring dubious Bible translations and sateen choir robes. That’s worse than nothing.

I thought about what’s been lost. Whittemore’s up near Boston — the grand go-to shop used by Unitarian and Universalists — has been closed for years. So too the home of a mix of practical goods (like clericals) and tcotchkes catering to Catholics up in suburban Wheaton. At some point, Ikon and Book Service, a great supplier of Eastern Christian goods near Catholic University vanished, taking my source of icons, candles, incense, even my butterlamb mold.

Not that I bought so much at any of these. But I did shop at Cokesbury at Wesley and Virginia Theological Seminary — until Cokesbury closed all of their retail stores. That hurt. And then, recently visiting the Episcopal cathedral’s once-fine bookshop (not even a supply store, per se) to discover it was little more than a souvenir stall… that was too much. There was, literally, more fudge for sale than prayer books. Make of that what you will.

This contraction predates the rise of internet bookselling — indeed, Washington, D.C. doesn’t have a single remaining mass-market bookstore left, either — and that can’t help, but I’m sure the lessening influence of churches are a problem, too. (There is the Potter House for Christian books, if not church supplies in D.C., I’ll try that tomorrow.)

So, what’s the solution? More exhibit and sales halls at church meetings? Discussion about repurposing or making church goods out of “secular” wares? Candid, independent reviews of online retailers? Asking vendors, who supply other religions’ needs, to expand their lines? (I’ve seen this in a Vietnamese shop.)

Perhaps all of these. But there’s something lost when you don’t have easy access to the material culture with which you “do” religion. Perhaps the focus on selling to the “pros” is an issue; after all, yarn and bead stores stay open, even it high-rent D.C., and those are hardly less niche.

Universalist Register 1912: Cross and Crown!

Selection_007Another advertisement from the 1912 Universalist Register was for the “Cross and Crown” system of pins and accessories, to award Sunday School participation. You still see these for sale in old-fashioned church supply stores, but while there used to be named versions for all major denominations, you hardly see any other than Baptists today; the generic “attendance” variety prevail today. And they’re not nearly so refined as the one I saw some years ago: the treasured possessions of elder Universalists, kept from childhood. bitb_cross-and-crown

Back in 2002, I bought up the last of the Universalist “Cross and Crown” pins from Whittemore’s, a much loved but now defunct New England church supply house.