If you’d never been to church before and someone handed you a plate of wafers and a spaceship-designed, traveling presentation tray full of juice cups during the middle of service, would that be weird? Would proclaiming that we’re about to eat the body of Christ clear things up? Probably not. You’d be puzzled, maybe even a little sweaty, until someone leaned over and handed you a copy of this book. And then everything would be alright because you’d know the five easy rules of Communion Tray Etiquette:
Rule 1: Always be prepared.
The second you realize you’re about to share communion, start scouting out which direction it’s coming from. Watch the back-and-forth, every-other-aisle jump the ushers are doing to determine if it will be passed from your left or your right. Assess the possible handoff skills of the person next to you. Do they appear cagey? Nervous? Old? Remember, they’ll be passing the tray to you with only one hand since their other hand will be holding the cup or the wafer. If you have even an inkling that your pew neighbor won’t execute a perfect handoff, prepare a two-hand reception. Not alligator-style like in God’s favorite sport, Frisbee, but with both hands out gently, as if you’re saying, “Hey fella, that’s OK, you can hand me that tray. It’s in good hands. You’ve done a great job. I’ll take it from here.”
Rule 2: Move it along.
The biggest communion tray foul you can commit is to hold the tray too long. You’re essentially causing a pew traffic jam or “PTJ.” While you sit there and tediously make up your mind, you’re signaling to everyone else sitting next to you, “Don’t mind me, I’m just preventing you from partaking in the most tender sacrament of faith. I’m blocking you from the body of Christ.” Aim to receive the tray, make your selection, and pass it to your neighbor in under two seconds. Sound impossible? It’s not if you follow rules three and four…
Rule 3: Practice quick cup selection.
I don’t know what kind of tray your church uses for communion, but growing up we used silver dishes with elevated, circular rows of cups. Kind of like the hats that Devo wore in the “Whip It” video. As you look down on all these options, you’re going to be tempted to analyze which one “looks best.” “Which is the fullest? Which one looks like it might spill? If I take a certain cup, can I empty a row like some sort of reverse game of Connect Four? Shoot, someone already took the center cup. That’s my favorite cup! That’s the King cup.” Ignore these thoughts. They’re only going to slow you down and make it look like you’re still deciding how you feel about this whole “Jesus thing.” Grab the first cup you make eye contact with and pass.
Rule 4: Break bread, not your concentration.
Chances are the bread or wafer will not be uniform in size. You might be looking at a plate full of wafers broken up into a variety of shapes and girths, or an actual loaf of bread will land in your lap. Do you put the tray down so you can use both bare hands on the loaf? Do you keep the tray in one hand and try to form some kind of eagle claw that can rip a chunk of bread out even though you’re not stabilizing the loaf? How much bread is too much bread? How big a wafer should you choose? Deep breaths, deep breaths. We’re going to get through this together.First and foremost, regardless of what’s on the tray, don’t root around. You’re not digging for buried treasure. As far as bread goes, I’m a fan of using both hands. Place the tray quickly on your lap, use your left hand to gently touch the back of the loaf and then pull a gumball-sized piece of bread off the front of the loaf with your right hand. (If you can fit both butter and jam on the piece of bread you’ve selected, you’ve gone too big and should be ashamed of yourself for hogging Jesus.) Then move on. No regrets about your piece. You got a great piece. It’s a fine piece. Let it go.
Rule 5: Pace yourself with consumption.
It’s hard to know when to eat your bread and drink your wine because different churches do communion different ways. So watch the crowd and the minister. Wait until you see a majority of people partaking. And be prepared to pretend you were just scratching your cheek if you go to put the bread in your mouth and realize right before it touches your lips that you were too early.
Ultimately, you might mess up all five of these steps. You might drop the tray on the floor and cause a huge commotion and have everyone stare at you. But I think if you did, God would say the same thing we say at our house when somebody spills: “No big deal.” Because it’s not about the cup or the wafer or the cold the person next to you is inevitably going to give you. It’s about Christ and He tends to live outside of etiquette.