I’ll admit in my study I didn’t see anything about Wesley and the Eucharist or his use of wine in…
Benjamin Sledge
41

Thank you for your response.

As succinct a summary as I have read about Wesley’s practice:

“John Wesley believed the Lord’s Supper to be “the grand channel whereby the grace of his Spirit was conveyed to the souls of all the children of God” (Sermon 26: “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount VI”, §III.11). This is one of the reasons he received the sacrament at least weekly most of his life. He received daily during the eight days after Easter and the twelve days of Christmas. “The Wesleys strongly emphasized the importance of Holy Communion and helped to bring about a sacramental revival in the eighteenth century. Their sacramentarian principles, indeed, eventually proved the major factor in bringing about a separation. The members of the societies were urged to communicate frequently at their parish churches, and the Wesleys themselves led organized groups of Methodist communicants to St. Paul’s or St. Luke’s in London or to the Temple or St. James’s in Bristol, and were happy to share in the administration of the Lord’s Supper whenever invited so to do by sympathetic Anglican colleagues” (Frank Baker, John Wesley and the Church of England, page 84). This explains why the prayer book John Wesley edited and sent to America in 1784 for use by the newly constituted Methodist Episcopal Church assumed weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” — Steve Manskar https://wesleyanleadership.com/2013/10/15/a-wesleyan-practice-of-holy-communion/

There is at least one church, in Dublin, I believe, that still possesses a very large chalice that was specifically acquired to accommodate the large numbers of Methodist society members showing up for Sunday Eucharist.

There is no precedent for Anglicans in the 18th c not using wine in the Eucharist, and Wesley was presumably unaware of the danger to alcoholics in exposure even to communion wine, since alcoholism per se was unknown. So I believe it must have been simply taken for granted. Also, I don’t have Wesley’s book of health remedies at hand (nor some of my other resources), but, since I know that he did, indeed, recommend wine medicinally, I have to think that his sermons must be understood in the context of preaching to those for whom alcohol (and gambling) were disastrous societal issues. (I think of William Hogarth’s depictions of the debauchery and poverty in England.)

Don’t forget, too, that, besides his counsel to consider others in one’s own practice, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27 is undoubtedly referring to 11:21. Those who had more than enough to eat and drink in the Agapé meal, enough to get drunk perhaps, were participating in a real injustice against others, not to mention violating sharing in the Body.

Robert Welch (a dentist if I remember correctly), or his descendants may have had genuine motives but apparently profited literally from his application of pasteurization to grape juice. I would argue that the accompanying or later frontier development of serving communion via individual mini “shot” glasses and, at some point, broken matzoh or hard wheat mini-crackers or individual white wheat wafer hosts did far more theological damage as departures from a common loaf (leavened) and cup. Some of these also went on to adoption by the Disciples movement, Presbyterians, and others. Yes, the Temperance Movement did indeed take Wesley’s words too literally, just as many other changes, including those from the Methodists’ struggle with the shift from a movement to a church, brought about other inconsistencies. From my experience, I would say that Baptists took over the frontier fanaticism and made it very literal and rigid.

Also, I don’t quite understand your words, “…If your heart cannot be in the right place to have a thimble of wine while remembering the blood shed…” since for at least some alcoholics, the mere taste of the wine can be a serious trigger as a matter of the chemistry and psychology of addiction, not a matter of one’s heart being in the right place. Having once served the chalice to someone not expecting wine (and whom I did not know is a recovering alcoholic) in a United Methodist service at a seminary. One of my professors in liturgy at Notre Dame, the late James White, once tried arguing in my home conference in California for dealcoholized wine for eucharist, which seems reasonable, but met with strenuous objections from many wanting to be sensitive to recovering alcoholics in our midst. (I’ve always wondered how alcoholic priests handle the rubric to consume the remaining wine after presiding.)

While I am sympathetic to the larger tradition and understand the option of abstention from the cup, an argument that fermentation is essential to the Eucharist and trumps inclusion would be a hard one to make. And doesn’t using cream sherry, or even Chardonnay, as some Episcopalians do, constitute a meddling in tradition when compared with the crude, thick fermented wine of the ancient Near East, which needed to be mixed with water before consumption? If Confirmation is a rite in search of a theology, what would such an argument be?

I would also note that until the turn of the 20th c. very few Episcopal churches even had Eucharist as the primary Sunday service, if at all, preferring Morning Prayer plus sermon. Likewise, Roman Catholics did not serve the laity, even the hosts, let alone the cup, which at least technically still requires a bishop’s specific authorization. Intentionally limiting the frequency, let alone withholding communion in either kind, is an ongoing problem of far greater theological significance.

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