A communion legacy

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell

March 19, 2019

In preparation for Lent, I cleaned my office, and under the pile of papers I’d been meaning to file since Advent began, I found the four travel communion sets resting on the counter below the Bibles on my shelf. Three sets were passed down to me from my family, having belonged to my grandfather and great-grandfather. One has a silver cruet; two have silver-plated host boxes. All three have individual communion cups, in solid boxes lined with cloth; one contains purple velvet. One has a typewritten liturgy pasted inside the lid, a signature mark of my grandfather as a pastor. Over the years of receiving his prayer books, Bibles, and sermons, three-and-a-half by five-inch index cards with typed notes have become my link to who my grandfather was as a pastor and our family’s heritage, five generations of Baptist ministers. (My mother—my grandfather’s daughter—became a pastor after me).

For three generations before me—my great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather and then grandfather (along with his twin brother and younger brother), the men of my mother’s side of the family were ministers. I knew I wanted to go into ministry, but I never really had the opportunity to talk with my grandfather about it before he died when I was seventeen.

For three generations before me, the men of my mother’s side of the family were ministers. Their communion sets are pieces of my family history that help tell the story of where I came from.

While I was in seminary, my step-grandmother began to pass down books and sermons belonging to my grandfather. Upon graduating from seminary, I received the three portable communion sets, and at my ordination, my great-uncle Bill (my grandfather’s youngest brother) gave me my great-grandfather’s Scofield Bible, complete with his own notes in the margins, newspaper clippings for sermon ideas, and old black-and-white photographs of the ministers of my family. All of these are pieces of my family history that help tell the story of where I came from.

The three communion sets hold the most meaning for me because I don’t know the stories behind them. I assume they were given to my grandfather and his father upon their ordination, or installation services at churches. I don’t know who they visited and offered communion to, whether homebound or ill, whether they shared communion with families of newborn babies or other special occasions. All I know is that they cared for their congregations deeply. While the copies of sermons and books tell me what they believed and preached, while the Bibles and notes tell me what they thought about, the communion sets remind me that first and foremost, they were pastors.

There’s a fourth communion set now, one that I received as a gift from my husband when I was installed as pastor of a church over ten years ago. It’s different in that it came in a soft, small blue tote. It’s ceramic, and instead of individual communion cups, it comes with a chalice and paten, and communion linens. I suppose it’s fitting that mine stands out so differently from the other three, and yet, I keep them all together on the counter in my office until it is time for me to go do my pastoral visitations.

I know the stories of my communion set—the people I shared communion with days before they went home to God, the family I said goodbye to before I moved that was unable to be at worship my last Sunday, the homebound members that I visited. I know the prayers that were shared, the hymns sung together. I know my own rituals, how when I return from a pastoral visit, I carefully wash out the chalice and cruet, clean the crumbs out of the host box, and fold the linens back in properly inside its tote.

Once in a while, I will open the old communion sets, clean and polish them. Every now and then, I will take one of my grandfather’s communion sets instead, a reminder of the pastors who helped shape me. Even though I cannot speak to them anymore, they still speak to me, as my own pastoral story continues.

The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle, Wash., and ministry associate of social media for the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches USA.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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