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Dumb Things You See in Church: Goldfish Alert

June 27th, 2008
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Rev. Ben Harju posted this story on his blog. It is an example of the kind of attitude toward worship and the liturgy that is understandably why some Lutherans let the pendulum swing too far the other direction in their reaction against such inane irreverence and foolishness. And who can possibly blame them? Why, this story is almost enough to make me join the ranks of the Polycarpathian hyper-ritualists [calm down: just teasing guys].

Now, I suppose I could say, “Thankfully, this was not in one of our congregations.” But that would be hypocritical. Over the years I’ve witnessed “clown eucharists” in one of our Synod’s congregations where a guy dressed up like a clown did a “mime” Eucharist at the altar, complete with dipping a crucifix into a chalice of wine. In a few of our congregations, there have been events in which people are re-baptized to remind them of their baptism: yup, the whole nine yards, down to hopping in a backyard swimming pool. In another congregation, we’ve had a bed in the chancel during Lent for a sermon series on sex, advertised by people dressed up as Wookies on street corners. I have had to sit through “worship experiences” while listening to a “worship leader” do a great imitation of a Las Vegas lounge lizard tickling the ivories. Oh, yes—there are plenty of dumb things to go around in our circles too, to be sure. But this particular story struck me as a great example of the kind of dumb things you sometimes see in churches. And this story is precisely why I’ll gladly, any day of the week, and twice on Sunday, genuflect and adore the Blessed Lord Christ during the Most Venerable Holy Sacrament of the Altar. For it is His body and blood that is present under the consecrated elements, than ever feel any affinity for this kind of nonsense. Truly, God is with us.

My questions for all of us is this: Do we, in truth and fact, by the blessing of God, in the power of the Spirit, truly believe, teach and confess that it is Christ’s body and blood that we are receiving in the Eucharist? Do we hold firmly to the blessed reality of what is happening in the Lord’s Supper? It is the Risen, Ascended and Ever-Living Lord who deigns to feed us with His body and blood? Are we fully aware of the majesty of His glory when He is present among us in this way? Do we realize precisely to whom we are singing when we sing the Agnus Dei after the consecration? To the Almighty Lord of Sabbaoth who has lovingly come among us, under the bread and wine? This truth, and this reality, should shape everything we do in the Divine Service. Let other Christian confessions who do not believe, teach and confess the actual presence of our Lord under the bread and wine find their substitutes in emotionalism, irreverence, trite and flippant actions and behaviors in the house of the Lord. Let us however always realize that we are in the presence of the Holy One of Israel and act accordingly.

Here is Pastor Harju’s post.

Some time ago I received word from one of my parishioners about
something strange they had encountered while visiting a relative’s
congregation. Apparently, during the distribution of the Blessed
Sacrament, this congregation was handing out Goldfish crackers to the
children. While the parents were receiving our Lord’s Body, a dish with
Goldfish crackers was distributed to the children at the communion
rail. I suppose this was meant to include the children in the
distribution or something like that.

Upon hearing this, I promptly asked for some details, warned against
receiving the Sacrament at congregations not in our fellowship (this
was at a parish outside the Big Three Lutheran denominations in America
- yet Lutheran), and politely explained that it’s quite devilish to
hand out anything BUT our Lord’s Body and Blood during the
distribution. Certainly, something was *fishy* about this whole thing,
smelled of the Evil One himself, and should be avoided at all costs
(aside: how does he keep getting us with food?!)
In this sort of way I warned the flock entrusted to my care.

Fast forward to not so many weeks ago. This congregation has a new
pastor, and has for a little while now. Some of us have gladly
befriended him. Yet the poor sod made the mistake of inviting me into
his church to have a look around (with a couple of others). For those
of you who have played “Baldur’s Gate,” when I get into a new nave,
chancel, and/or sacristy I become a liturgical version of Noober.
“Heya. What’s that? Why’s that there? What do you use that for? What’s
in there? How long has that been here?” And so on. The poor man didn’t
see it coming. I’m just genuinely curious and interested in broadening
my horizens.

So while in the sacristy the pastor is showing us his communion ware,
and I see a little bag of Goldfish crackers. And so I say, “Oh, that’s
right. This is the church that was handing out the Goldfish crackers
during communion.” And the pastor kind of looks around uncomfortably
and says it is. So I cheerfully and casually explained that I’ve warned
my parishioners to avoid him/them. So
then I say, “But you don’t still do that, do you?” The cleric becomes a
bit squeemish, saying, “Yeahhhh.” So I say, “Oh.” Keep in mind, I am
trying to be polite, not to mention keep my thinking in the boundaries
of “best construction.” So I say, “Well, it’s not like you’re blessing
them, right?” Again the cleric becomes squeemish. “Oh,” I say. “Well,
it’s not like you’re putting them on the altar during the consecration,
right?” Now the poor cleric is really squeemish, and says, “Well….”
Oh, the cloud of disappointment that fell upon that sacristy.

It seems they still have been placing Goldfish crackers on the altar,
blessing them at the consecration, and distributing them to the
children. I’m pretty sure they’re not being blessed with the Verba
(oh please oh please oh please oh please). Truly, I expected the
opposite response to each of those questions I asked. In case this
pastor (who shall remain nameless, and whose congregation and location
shall remain nameless) reads this: PLEASE STOP WITH THE GOLDFISH
practice will be no battle at all for him.

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  1. Michael Zamzow
    June 27th, 2008 at 11:07 | #1

    While I was a student at an ALC seminary, a professor presided at the Lord’s Supper and had “jelly beans from Jesus” for children who came forward. Even goldfish seem better than that! This foolishness has been around for a long time.

  2. Christian E
    July 7th, 2008 at 21:54 | #2

    It pains me to see the liturgy thrown out in such a way. I hope those Goldfish weren’t consecrated as the Body of Christ (Pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaase Please Please Please.) I must point out that thing such as this attempting to make religion your own personal experience are not true Christianity, but Gnosticism. The Liturgy is the center of Christian life (as has been stated oh so many times by Luther and others in the faith.) I pray that the church will wake up and bishops will begin to discipline pastors who do this kind of thing (as that is their calling.) I believe that the sixteenth century was the Golden Age of the Lutheran Liturgy. Why can’t we return? I proudly declare my love for the liturgy in front of modernists from other “Churches” and it does not make me feel ashamed. I feel an even closer connection with God and the saints gone before me in the liturgy than they ever will in their praise music.

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