Saloma Miller Furlong's Blog
Amish Communion Service - Part 3
Just when I thought I could not sit a moment longer, the deacon brought in a jug and round loaves of bread. He placed them on a table. Then Bishop Dan asked us all to rise. He talked about the bread in a solemn tone: “First, in the spring, the ground is prepared. Then the seed is sown. The weeds are plucked from the fields as the wheat grows. When the grain ripens, it is cut. When the right time comes, the wheat is harvested and the grain separated from the straw and ground into meal. Then it goes through the wives’ hands and is kneaded into bread. As the grains joined to make this bread, they gave up their individuality. In the same way that each grain gave up its individuality to become part of the bread, so must we give up our individuality to become a part of the community.”
After that, I couldn’t concentrate on what Bishop Dan was saying. I was thinking about the concept of giving up one’s individuality to be a part of the community. Was I willing, or even able to do that? I thought to myself, at least the grains had been fully developed “individuals” to start with. Didn’t we need to be individuals first, before we could come together as a community?
I imagined the grains being ground on a grindstone. I wanted to be one of the grains that would fall by the wayside, to escape being ground.
I wondered if I was the only one in the whole congregation who had these feelings and thoughts. I chided myself for having wayward thoughts at my first communion, and forced myself to concentrate on the service.
Bishop Dan continued: “Jesus said, ‘This is my body, when you eat of it, remember me.’” I watched the bishop, two ministers, and the deacon exchange communion bread. Then the deacon followed Bishop Dan with thick slices of bread as they walked up to the oldest man in the congregation, Al Miller. Dan broke off a small piece and handed it to him. Al ate the bread, bowed, and then sat down. The bishop moved down the line, giving the men communion bread. They all put the bread in their mouths, bowed, and sat down. Noah, the bishop’s son, was the last man to receive communion bread. Then Dan and the deacon walked to Al Miller’s wife, Ada, and served her bread. He started with the older women and worked his way down to us young women. I was the third to the last to eat my communion bread. I bowed and sat down.
When they were done with the bread, they had us all rise again to receive the wine. Bishop Dan went on to describe the process grapes go through to become wine, focusing again on how the individual grapes give up their identity to make the wine.
Then he and the deacon passed the cup around. As I saw Datt drink from the cup, I realized I had to drink from the same one. Purple drips trickled down the side of the white enamel. The bishop had told everyone how we should not shy away from drinking from the cup just because others had drunk from it. I wanted to say, That is easy for you to say; you got the first drink. I was never more aware of how the community sorted people first by gender, then by age. Even the youngest male got his drink of wine before the eldest woman in the church. When it was my turn to drink from the cup, I turned it around and drank from just above the handle.
After communion came the foot washing. The deacon carried in four buckets of warm water and towels. Chairs were set up in the front, and the older men started to wash one another’s feet, using two sets of chairs, while two older women did the same. I was happy to see that the men and women had separate buckets of water. After each pair had washed one another’s feet, they shook hands and gave one another the holy kiss. Bishop Dan said we shouldn’t think about whose feet we washed, because we were all the same in the eyes of the Lord. When it was Elizabeth Gingerich’s and my turn to wash one another’s feet, we took off our shoes and socks. Then she splashed the warm water over my feet and dried them off with the damp towel that half the women before us had used. Then I washed her feet, and we exchanged the holy kiss. We put our shoes and socks back on. My feet were still damp, and my socks stuck to my skin in an uncomfortable way. I reminded myself that it didn’t matter—it was the humility of the ritual that counted.
As we passed through the doorway, the deacon sat there, holding a navy-blue cloth bag. We all put money in the bag, our contribution to the church fund that would help out families in need, especially those with big hospital bills. In the washhouse, we gathered our shawls and bonnets and prepared for the walk home. Communion service was considered a serious time and we were all expected to be more solemn than usual, so even afterwards we remained subdued.
At home, I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling. Now that I had had my first communion, I would never be able to leave the Amish. If there was one thing worse than leaving the Amish before baptism, it was leaving after baptism. Somewhere in the High German phrases I had repeated after the bishop four weeks before, I had promised to stay with the Amish church my whole life long. This was the time I was supposed to be sure that joining church was the right thing for me, and I was more uncertain than I’d ever been.