Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The work of craftsmen, and communion

One of my fascinations throughout my life has been with woodworking. I'd make a lousy carpenter - I am just a fumbler when it comes to tools, and I was the despair of my father when it came to something as simple as cutting two boards the same length. But I learned enough from my father to appreciate good wood, fine woodwork and beautiful finishes.

When my sister and brother-in-law suggested last weekend that we journey to nearby Archbold, Ohio to a woodcarver's show at historic Sauder Village, at first I was just going to go to keep them company. I am not, you see, either a wildlife enthusiast nor an artist; so birds and horses and fish and flowers carved out of wood just don't excite me all that much.

But to be honest, I'd been spending too much time in front of either the work or home PC, so the chance to get out and go sounded like a great idea. We debated not going, because the weather was supposed to be so much better on Sunday - but in the end, hopped in the car and headed out state route 2 to Sauder Village.

The drive out the old Airport Highway, through Swanton, Delta, and Wauseon was amazingly refreshing, especially after the nightmare of driving in Chicago. Five minutes west of the Toledo airport, there were open fields and spaces as far as the eye could see. Farmland was everywhere. The smells were fresh, and clean. I was amazed how much I had missed really open spaces and small towns.

Though I had lived in northwest Ohio for 17 years before I left in 1991, I'd never been to Sauder Village. Founded by the Sauder woodworking family back in the mid 1800's, the Village is a recreation of an earlier, simpler life. Along with the woodcarvers' show, it was also Butchering Day at the farm (something I was only too glad we arrived too late to experience). I probably saw a couple dozen youngsters proudly wearing "Butchering Crew Member" stickers - and I'm glad it was them, and not me, to be honest.

The strange part, though, began in the woodcarvers' show. While I could admire all the beautifully-carved critters, and the marvelously-crafted toys and walking sticks and every kind of geegaw, I found myself drawn, time and time again, to carvers who crafted dishes, platters, bowls and goblets. I admired the exotic woods, the satin and gloss finishes, the elaborate combinations of glass and wood. And it finally struck me, as I was holding a simple but beautiful platter made out of birdseye maple. I picked it up, admiring the shape and finish of the wood, and thought, "Wouldn't this be cool to serve communion with?"

And it happened again and again. The simple yet elegant glass goblet with the beautifully turned walnut stem. The incredibly rich patterns of burl in a large, flattened bowl. The cut-glass chalice with the stem and matching paten which would have so beautifully matched the wood of the altar in my church in Kansas. And it went on in the pottery shop, in the glassblowing studio, even in the tinsmith's shop. Time and time again, I pictured the folks I knew and loved, sharing a simple Eucharistic feast and then an elaborate potluck, gathered around these lovingly crafted implements of hospitality.

Now, you have to understand - I'm one of those heretics your pastor warned you about when it comes to communion. All the ritual and all the trappings all fall away with me, and I am left with bread, wine or grape juice, and the sharing of these simple elements. I don't need fancy linens folded just so or golden chalices or any of the rest of it. Nor do I need much of the complexity and ritual that has built up across the years of church tradition. (I know, full well, that these things matter deeply to others, and I value and honor their beliefs. I just am willing to see the act of communion in much simpler terms....)

One of the most beautiful communion services I have ever beheld was a group of friends from church, gathered around Bev and Jerry Amundson's pool one July evening, with a loaf of rye bread and a plastic chalice of grape juice passed from person to person. The group sang "Jesus, Remember Me," Taize' style, as the elements went from person to person. Birds chirped, cicadas may very well have been buzzing...and it is an image of true "communing" that will live with me for all my remaining days.

And so the ghosts of dozens of friends were with me as I admired the craftsmanship of women and men of great talent. I longed for the day when I could be part of a family of faith that would be free enough to share the simplest sacrament with each other.

And, as Sue, Jeff and I sat down to a prime-rib and fried-chicken buffet at the Essen House just outside of Archbold, I had this crazed thought that I needed to grab one of the corn fritters, and one of the glasses of Diet Coke, and share it with my sister and brother-in-law, sharing the ancient words with them.

In retrospect, I'm sorry I didn't.

Work at the Evil Telecommunting Empire begins in just under 6 hour, so it's off to bed I go.


Anonymous said...

lovingly crafted implements of hospitality

You know, for all of the communion services I have done, I never considered the chalice and the patten as "implements of hospitality." But they are! The sacrament of the altar is a gathering of hospitality! We need to remember this and consider who we extend hospitality to and who we, in overt and subtle ways, pulling our hospitality back from.

We need to think about who we consider "us" and who we consider "them."

Tom Scharbach said...

Eeeeeck! Corn fritters and diet cola? You really are in O-hi-O.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Great story, Steve. We had the coolest communion ceremony at my church this weekend - three couples stood at tables and offered us the bread and wine (well, juice - I'm also a friend of Bill's) - it was just so personal and intimate.

Keith Brenton said...

Something about the wood and the bread and the wine inspired me a few weeks back, too, Steve: The Bread and the Wine and the House that Christ Built.

I hope Ohio continues to bless your life.