Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general. This is a part of that series.
Question: Why do we use grape juice instead of wine for communion?
There are potentially two reasons that our church decided to use grape juice instead of wine. The first is real and the second one, though historically real, may or may not be connected to the original juice vs. wine decision. That second reason goes back to John Wesley who used to preach against the evils of “distilled spirits”- which meant liquor. As I understand it, the evil of liquor wasn’t its alcohol content, but that selling liquor was so profitable for landowners, that they distilled most of their crops into alcohol rather than selling them for the making of bread and other foods. With the majority of crops being directed onto the production of distilled spirits, food became so expensive that the poor often couldn’t afford to eat.
Whether that is connected to what happened later, I’m not sure. But as the temperance movement grew in the 1800’s, the Methodist Church, and the Women’s Society (a forerunner of the United Methodist Women) were leading the fight to ban alcohol. Being a part of the temperance movement and later, supporters of Prohibition, it was awkward for the church to serve wine during communion. And so, in 1869, a doctor who was also a Methodist minister, named Thomas Welch used the newly discovered process of pasteurization on grape juice so that it could be preserved without alcohol in it. For 20 years, the majority of Mr. Welch’s customers were churches like ours because his invention enabled them to serve communion without alcohol. But after a while, Americans began to develop a fondness for this new beverage and I am sure that most of you can still find Welch’s grape juice on the shelves of your local grocery store.
Today, The United Methodist Church no longer preaches temperance or lobbies for prohibition, but that history remains a part who we are. Today you will find many churches, and many Methodists, who still abstain from alcohol. Regardless of whether you, your family, or members of your church drink, that DNA and that history are a part of who we are, and so we continue the tradition of using grape juice instead of wine when we serve communion.
Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor
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