Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fish and bread -- how Biblical!

This past Sunday I was at St. Paul's in Ventura. The Rev. Susan Bek came down to Los Angeles to have lunch with me before the visitation, and shared with me the Good News of God in Christ that is happening in Ventura.

She told me, before I got there, "Bishop, there is one thing. We have one beautiful little girl that has some challenges, one of them is food. We have worked with her, but she cannot take the host. We asked her Mom what would work, and she told us "goldfish". So you will see on the paten the priest's host, and a goldfish cracker. We will point her out to you as you distribute communion."

Susan did, and I about cried.

Talk about being present for someone who is challenged, but is such a beautiful child of God, and of one member of the clergy who "gets it" and responds with what is necessary to not exclude one of God's children.

Here is Susan's note to me about this, and a picture of the goldfish cracker on the paten with the priest's hosts. This past Sunday, as there often is, there were Gluten free wafers as well -- we need to meet our people where they are to be able to offer them the Body of Christ!

Each Sunday we bless a priest's host, plenty of regular wafers, a few gluten-free wafers and one Pepperidge Farms goldfish. Every time the Deacon sets the table and I come forward to celebrate, we look down at the paten and glance at each other, nearly in tears. We know that it's unusual to bless a goldfish, but the story of why we do it, and who we do it for, means so much to us that the mere sight of it makes us emotional. We have, in our congregation, a little girl who has some special needs. Among her various challenges she has some food rigidity. She is unable to take the wafer; not because she's allergic, because it is not one of the very limited number of things she is able to accept and eat. Not long after I arrived at St. Paul's I had the great pleasure of baptizing this girl's younger sister. Following the baptism, and because it was their family's wishes, the younger girl received Eucharist for the first time. Sadly, the older sister could not receive. We tried many times. We met outside of Sunday service and offered her the opportunity to see, hold, smell and examine wafers in the hope that she might be willing to accept one and eat it. Much as she wanted to, she simply could not accept the body of Christ when presented in this form. I asked their mother whether there was a cracker of some kind that she was able to eat and that's when we found out that she likes goldfish. Now there is a box sitting in our sacristy and every Sunday one little orange goldfish adorns our paten. When I place it in her hand I say, "this is the body of Christ, the bread of heaven for you." She looks up and, ever so quietly, says, "thank you...I mean, Amen!"  She is welcome at this table as all are welcome at this table. And if we have to make some accommodations so that all may join us, so be it. 
14 but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
I have been wanting to take a picture of the paten with the priest's host and goldfish. I will do that tomorrow and send it to you. 

When I have the opportunity to return to St. Paul's, I hope to give this beautiful child of God what she needs to be included in the meal so many of us take for granted each Sunday -- but which, for her, because of her condition, she could not partake of before the Rev. Susan Bek became the loving vessel of God that she is. I wonder what I will find the next time I show up at St. Paul's?

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