It was early in my life that the family realized dad had a drinking problem. As a Methodist minister it was something he tried very hard to stop. It seemed like nothing he did helped with the problem. Even mom would keep a very close eye on the problem and if she saw the drinking, she would try to stop it before someone in the congregation noticed.
Both mom and dad were raised very traditionally, so the drinking problem was especially tough to deal with. They were raised to believe that this type of behavior was unacceptable, yet it continued.
The years would go by and they would move from church to church, but dads drinking problem seemed to follow him. When the drinking occurred and it was spotted, there would be accusations, denials, and excuses. There would then be promises to stop and do better. Inevitably and unfortunately, despite the promises, the drinking problem would reemerge once again.
The shame and anger over the situation would overshadow the sanctity and holy reverence for hallowed services such as Holy Communion.
Being a preachers kid, my perception of Holy Communion has changed and matured over the years. As I look back it seems inevitable that dads drinking problem would shade my perception of Holy Communion in the present.
When I was younger, I didn’t act with a “Holy” or reverent attitude all the time. As a grade school aged kid, I had to sit in church and behave as the time ticked slowly by. I had to be the “good” preachers kid and sit there quietly. It would get closer and closer to lunch time and I would start to get hungry.
As a young child, I always participated in communion. When I was growing up all our churches used the little shot glasses,….I know,…..”Communion Cups”,… which were filled with grape juice and sitting in little holes along the alter. There would also be little platters with tiny pieces of something called communion wafers.
We would go up, kneel at the alter, eat a communion wafer, and then take a little cup of juice and drink it. By this time of the morning, the communion juice tasted like HEAVEN. I’d had nothing to eat or drink for several hours and Welch’s grape juice tasted devine, so I guess I did understand the “Holy” part, but NOT always for the reasons given in the bible.
The thing about communion is that they never had an exact amount, so there were always leftover full cups on the alter at the end of the service.
My job, was to figure out a way to get to the alter after church. Dad would give the benediction and walk out to shake hands at the front door. As people left, I found my window of opportunity. I also had to be wary of mom because she was in the choir. Sometimes they would walk out after the minister as a group or just leave from the choir loft. This was one of the tricky details that I had to work out on the fly.
Luckily, as the minister’s wife, Mom would often go to the door and shake peoples hands as well. This left me and my little sister Von unsupervised and free to carry out the operation.
Von knew as well as I did how incredible that juice tasted. It was irresistible. We just had to do something before one of our parents returned or, heaven forbid, one of the communion stewards, showed up to put stuff away.
When I was little, I had a certain amount of freedom. I wasn’t expected to shake hands or be social with the adults, so I had time. I certainly had motive; that juice was heavenly! I just had to work out the plan….
We would just…….sort of………slowly……amble…….nonchalantly…… over to the alter. I would then stand there,…..trying to look innocent. Like I was just waiting on a bus or something.
I’m looking around the sanctuary………scanning for troublesome adults………no, they’re busy talking….Good!
Then, with the speed and precision of a frog snatching a fly in mid-air,…I swipe a little cup of juice and drink it.
“Oh good lord!” That was tasty!…..I need MORE…
Now that I think about it,…. as an attorney, I have defended many people accused of shoplifting and theft over the years. I have watched countless surveillance videos of people surreptitiously stuffing something in their pocket, backpack, purse, and even down their pants.
They would nonchalantly walk around the store looking at various things, trying to blend in. Then with the speed of a leopard they would snatch something and place it in their shirt. Many times they are able to pull off the wrapping at the same time.
I realize now that I was using similar tactics with communion juice. I would stand there and maybe pick up a stray church bulletin or hymnal while trying to act like I had a legitimate purpose for hanging around the alter.
No one looking and….swoosh,…another cup was mine. Again, the magic elixir was sweet and delicious. Now….if….I’m careful….I can go for a third glass. I look around and the coast looks clear……so I quickly reach out to snatch another glass and……”LOUIS JOHN PURVIS!!!….YOU PUT THAT BACK!!!”…is loudly and firmly barked across the sanctuary!
MOTHER………….. had returned. My scheme had come to a screeching halt. I was busted! The use of my full name indicated the level of trouble headed my way.
It wasn’t until 45 years later that I was in a church class about communion and I learned that our church taught it was inappropriate for leftover communion sacraments to go to waste. In other words the United Methodist Church would rather have someone eat and drink the left-over bread and juice than to throw it out.
I don’t know if that was the rule when I was little or not. I strongly suspect that even if it was, it wouldn’t have mattered to Mom or Dad. The last thing they wanted the congregation seeing was their two smallest kids swilling communion juice from the alter like they were in the Longbranch Saloon on Gunsmoke.
I now understand that it wasn’t just about public perception, but my lack of reverence for the sacrament. I wasn’t acting very respectful if I was up at the alter throwing back a few extra drinks while everyone had just been told that this was the blood of Christ shed for me.
Yes, …..Dad had a drinking problem…………………….and it was ME.