Things That Make You Go "Eww"
By Taylor Burton-Edwards
What makes you go "Eww" in worship?
Here are five for starters.
- You're serving me the bread after blowing your nose all morning?
Here's a true story reported by my colleague, Dean McIntyre, on the UMC Worship Facebook Group.The pastor coughed into his fist throughout the service and blew his nose repeatedly into the same Kleenex. He presided at Holy Communion without hand washing or sanitization and broke the bread during the liturgy and also into individual pieces, placing them into the hands of communicants during the intinction.
A better practice: If you are sick with anything communicable, stay home. That applies to laity and clergy alike. We know you want to share God's love with us. Just don't share your germs at the same time.
- The water in that font looks dusty and has a slight greenish tinge.
As awful as the example above is, it remains the case that there are exactly zero clinically confirmed cases of people ever getting sick from communion. Zip. Zilch. Nada.However, there are many confirmed cases of people getting a variety of pretty nasty infections from water left standing in fonts, as well as epidemiological studies of the water found in fonts in churches showing transmissible quantities of some pretty serious bacteria.A better practice: Never leave water standing in a font beyond the time of any service in which it is used. Clean the font thoroughly between uses with appropriate cleaners, rinse thoroughly, and then refill shortly before its next intended use. This will not only reduce the chance of the font spreading germs, but also prevent lime build-up from ever starting.
If it's flu season, take these additional precautions.
- Why does this bread taste like my refrigerator smells? Is that mold? Or freezer burn?
It just might be.Some congregations bake their communion bread a few weeks ahead of time and keep it refrigerated until they use it. Others may make it several months ahead of time, freeze it, and then thaw it the morning they need to use it.The result is bread that may taste like your refrigerator (it's been absorbing the smells in there) or that may be freezer burned. Or if it wasn't properly stored, then, yes, that may be mold you're seeing.
Stilltasty.com is the Internet's go to place to find out how long you can keep things refrigerated or frozen without running health risks or making the food taste bad.
For bread, it's typically 4-5 days in the refrigerator, 3 months in the freezer, tops.
A better practice: Fresh bread always, always tastes better. For communion, serve the best you have, not the best you had.
- What's this hard, nobby stuff under my pew? Why am I sticking to my pew? ...or I just reached under the pulpit and, "Eww!"
That hard nobby stuff might be gum. You might be sticking to your pew because someone spilled something there. Don't get me started on pulpits (or communion tables!) becoming storage bins for who knows what all!
All three cases lead to the same question. How often do you clean your pews, pulpit, and other furniture at church? I mean, really clean them?I know many congregations that basically don't. They might lightly dust the pews weekly or monthly, but they never or rarely do a thorough cleaning, such as would catch that wad of gum that may have been hardening for the past few years or decades, or prevent the buildup of sticky stuff from that bit of juice that got spilled from a sippy cup (or a little communion cup!) weeks or months ago.A better practice: Properly dust the pews or other seating weekly. Proper dusting isn't just of the seat or seatbacks, but also under the pews. While dusting, see if there are any "sticky spots" or "new attachments" and clean these right away. Then at least once a year, have a "deep cleaning day" for seating and all other furniture in your worship space.
And as for that pulpit or communion table? Remember, these are not for long term storage of files, sermons, beverages, coffee mugs, used handkerchiefs or anything else but perhaps some electronics for sound and a Bible or the songbooks you may need to use for leading worship week by week. Clear out everything else, keep them cleared out after each service, and include them in the weekly dusting regime and yearly deep-clean as well.
- You're putting that oil on my head, pastor?
On the one hand, olive oil can last quite a long time. Stilltasty.com notes whether you refrigerate olive oil or not, once opened, it can still smell and even taste just fine up to 18-24 months. Other vegetable oils start to smell "off" within a year.But just how old is the oil in that bottle on your shelf, or in that cruet near your pulpit? If it's longer than that, or you don't know, maybe it's time to buy a new one!
A better practice: Use oils for anointing you know smell as fresh as possible. Before you use oil in worship, give it a good sniff test. And have someone else confirm it. That way folks who receive it may be more likely to say, "Ahh" than "Eww!"
Those are my top 5 for now.
What would you add?