When Communion Goes Badly

picture of communion elements

When Communion Goes Badly

In the last post I began a series of reflections on what to do when things go wrong with your message or in the worship service.  Most pastors today try to have the various elements of a worship service blend together.  So it affects your sermon if other areas of the worship time are done poorly, or if something is distracting.  What do you do then?  That’s the point of today’s post.  We’re going to look at what to do when communion goes badly in the midst of your worship service.

A Presbyterian Story

logo for the PCUSAAs I said in the last post, I am sharing some stories that I have collected over the years from a variety of pastors as I asked them, “What’s the funniest thing that’s happened in your ministry?”  This story comes from a Presbyterian pastor.   Presbyterians have a reputation of being committed to the idea of “do everything in good order.”  This is still generally true of Presbyterians in the United States, though, of course, there are a variety of expressions of Pesbyterianism today.

Communion Goes Badly

comic about communionSo, I asked the question.  Here’s the story.  His church had a communion service coming up on Sunday, but the woman who usually prepared the elements was sick.  The wife of one of the elders stepped up into the gap and volunteered to get the wine into the cups, to purchase the bread and get it all ready for distribution on Sunday.

The time for communion came in the service, just prior to the message.  The pastor read the appropriate form, and then introduced the bread.  It was distributed and eaten upon invitation of the pastor.  Then it was time for the juice.   He said the words that are associated with this sacrament: “Jesus took the cup, blessed it and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  He dramatically took the pitcher and poured out the juice in a way that allowed the juice to be seen and heard.

picture of prune juice

Prune Juice

However, he noticed at that point that the color of the liquid was not normal.  It was brown.  But in a Presbyterian Church, you don’t stop a communion service and say, “Something’s not right here.”  So, he completed the pouring, and then invited the people to take the juice as they remembered Christ’s sacrifice for them.  The juice was bitter, and people scrunched up their faces as they drank it.  They expected grape juice and got something they didn’t expect.

What Happened?

It turned out that the woman preparing communion found an unmarked bottle of prune juice in the refrigerator and assumed that it was the juice for communion.  They had to learn something about when communion goes badly as they reacted to the surprise.

Needless to say, this was a potential disruption to the service, and was certainly a distraction from the message.

What To Do When Communion Goes Badly

comic about communion

‘I know you had a bad week, Dear, but you don’t have to go through the communion line twice.’

So what would you do?  The pastor decided to simply move on with the service.  That was probably the best course of action in this case.

The only other choice would have been to call attention to the problem and try to figure out what happened while the service was going on.  That might have worked in a very small church, but likely would have been an even greater disruption to the service in a larger one.

The Rest of the Story

What attracted me to this story, however, was the way they redeemed this event.  The woman who had prepared at the communion was diagnosed with cancer a short time after this.  As treatment progressed, it became obvious that this cancer was terminal; she was going to die.

The woman left the area to live with here daughter during care, but came back to her home church two weeks before her death to say goodbye to her friends.  In honor of her presence, they had communion–and they used prune juice.


This is the church in action, isn’t it?  They took a disruptive event and redeemed it.  The mistake became a symbol of the love and acceptance of God’s people.  May you be able to do the same when things go wrong with your communion times.


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