An adult hand handing a Nilla Wafer to a child's hand

Grace and Vanilla Wafers

An adult hand handing a Nilla Wafer to a child's hand

A view that became familiar over the course of the morning.

This morning my ravenous, growth-spurting twins decided that Mini ‘Nilla Wafers were the only acceptable food in our house. I doled out four—one for each hand for each twin, and they made their way back into the playroom to play and enjoy their snacks. Every few minutes they returned. And one at a time I placed the wafers into their tiny hands.

After a few rounds I realized that something about this felt awfully familiar. I felt like I was distributing vanilla wafer communion right there in my kitchen. No, I hadn’t blessed them, and I didn’t even necessarily glance up from my work every time the little feet thudded back for more.

But with one outstretched hand after another, I recognized in my children the same persistence with which the people of the church return each week, hands outstretched for a wafer at the communion rail.

And the simplicity of what the twins did taught me more about what happens in the Eucharist than any lecture on eucharistic theology ever has. Each time those babies came back to me, it was because they knew I loved them and would meet their needs. Again and again and again. They came back to me each time with a trust I could only hope to muster as I approach God each time I receive the Eucharist. When I stretch my hands out to God the way those little hands stretched out to me, do I truly believe God will meet my needs? Do I trust in God’s love for me?

There is only so far that this comparison goes, of course, because eventually I will stop giving them ‘Nilla Wafers. Unlike a mom concerned for her children’s sugar intake, though, God will never stop giving.

Each time we return to the communion rail, God meets us there. And while those papery communion wafers aren’t quite as delicious as vanilla wafers, they nonetheless remind us, again and again, that God’s love and provision for us will never cease. This is grace. And it is sweet indeed.


Hashtag my trauma
Publicize my drama
Go ahead, paparazzi me and my mama.

Don’t understand
The supply and demand
For our vulnerable blogs
And sensational vlogs
Voyerism or loneliness?
My addiction to the blue screen
My thumb scrolling fast and mean,
A desire to know and be known
Yet the tandem desire to be left alone

Get one mention in Sunday’s sermon
And his/her/their pain goes viral
Tweeting for a few days
But what’s the homiletical plot?
Does the preaching change the lot?
Did we give an altar call,
eyes closed,
heads bowed,

Alleviate affliction, humble the proud, did we end with the cup and the bread, somehow praying for the sick and remembering our dead?

Did you have a moment of reflection for their rejection,

Did we have a what next, a call to action?

Is anyone on their feet, or is it social media reactions?
Am I the hands and feet? Or the typing fingers of the body,
Will we see each other face to face and meet?
Will we let ego keep us separated and haughty?

Or is the virtual perception, my new reality, our only connection.

Maybe I need the church to help me feel,
Your blog to help me heal,
But maybe and I think you know it, too,
We need to touch and pray like we used to do,
Then go out and serve
Instead of remain
Impotent outside of a web domain
Nothing wrong with the internet
But human contact Just might yet
Be the way we were meant to be
Somewhere inside of the beloved community

one set of silverware on a tablecloth

Come to the Table

one set of silverware on a tablecloth

Join the feast!

Many years ago, my friend had a young daughter with serious medical issues who had to be hospitalized for several weeks. Understandably, my friend was under enormous stress and she did not have the time, energy, or desire to cook. Her priority was being with her daughter in the hospital. So, for these weeks, she subsisted on rice cakes (this being the early 1990’s, rice cakes were ubiquitous in the low-fat, high carbohydrate craze). It was a quick way to eat, and it felt the appropriate food considering her circumstances. She was sad and fearful, and food had no taste: might as well eat something that tastes as wretched as she feels. It wasn’t just that the rice cakes were dry and flat; her spirit was dry and flat.

Thanks to God’s mercy, the daughter recovered and was released from the children’s hospital. But my friend continued to eat race cakes. Though her child was now well, she had developed a habit of eating them, and a habit is hard to break.

A couple of years passed, and the season of Lent was coming up, a season in which traditionally people give up something of value to them. My friend was surprised when, in prayer, the Holy Spirit nudged her with an invitation: “maybe you should give up rice cakes for Lent.” When my friend told family members, they teased her. After all, people normally fast from something desirable, like chocolate or coffee. Who gives up rice cakes for Lent? But my friend did, and, within days of giving it up, she lost her craving for them. At the conclusion of Lent, she didn’t resume her rice cake eating ways. It was God’s way of signaling to her that her previously dry and flat season was over.

I resonate with my friend’s experience. Too easily I have slipped into the habitual thought. “This is my lot in life: I just have to make do with eating crumbs and feeling crummy.” When I look around at the state of the world and the state of this county, I grow discouraged and overwhelmed: how long will the wicked prosper? In the face of these challenges, I need to be paying attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Seasons change, and there will come a time when this painful season is over. Sometimes I act as if subsisting on rice cakes is the only way forward. But as Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season…a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” There is a season for fasting, and there is a season for feasting. There is a time for us to give up something of value, and there is a time for us to reexamine what has become too valuable to us and why. There is a time to eat rice crackers beside a hospital bed, but there is also a time to come to the Lord’s banqueting table, and experience afresh the banner of love unfurled over our heads.

My hope is that we pay attention and heed God’s gracious invitations to us. When appropriate, God will invite us to mourn and to wear sackcloth, and, also God will eventually invite us to cast off those sackcloth and grave clothes that cling to us long after a season has ended. When the Lord nudges us, let us trade the dry and the tasteless for God’s extravagant banquet.

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Take-Out Neon Sign in a New York deli

Communion in the City

Take-Out Neon Sign in a New York deli

Sign in a New York deli

There’s a story, a myth perhaps, about a congregation that stopped all activities during Lent. That season they gathered for Sunday worship, and then the pastor and elders visited the homes of everyone in the congregation to serve communion. They held no meetings and no rehearsals – only worship on Sundays and in homes.

Anytime I complained to a former colleague about how busy my church was she would tell me this story. The idea is wonderful, but one that would take tremendous planning and congregational buy-in. Neither I nor the congregation I now serve was ready for this kind of endeavor, but the story got me thinking about communion and Lent in new ways.

During Lent in 2014, I invited the congregation I serve to join me for “Communion in the City.” Each Wednesday evening we gathered in a public space for fellowship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. During the five weeks that we met, we broke bread at two different Panera Bread restaurants, the mall food court, a McDonald’s, and a downtown outdoor space. Read more

A Prayer for the End of Nursing

After Mother and Child, lithograph by Pablo Picasso (1905); charcoal drawing by Austin Shelley (1999)

After Mother and Child, lithograph by Pablo Picasso (1905); charcoal drawing by Austin Shelley (1999)

O Lord, you have searched me
and known me.

You knew the moment when that sweet baby skin
first touched my chest
when that sweet little mouth
gaped like a fish
when that shocking moment of connection was made:
Mother. Child. One.
You knew.

You knew the struggles, and the pain.
The mostly sleepless nights
The one- (two-) (three-) (three-thirty-) a.m. wake-up calls.
The disconcerting, disorientating, barely-functioning
And still
the sweet baby skin and the gaping little mouth
the instant peace and the murmuring suckling.
You knew.

Read more

When Tradition Becomes Commonplace


I suppose a pastor’s favorite holiday should be either Christmas or Easter…but truth be told, I love Thanksgiving. I have fond memories of waking up in morning and lazing around the house in my pajamas while the smell of turkeys filled the house. Did you catch that? I said turkeys: my parents always made one to keep at home (and snack on a bit…you know, just some quality control) and another to bring to my aunt and uncle’s house for the family meal. My mother would bake trays of homemade rolls and apple, pumpkin and coconut pies. Our house was full of warmth and scents of family togetherness during Thanksgiving.

One year I convinced my mother to make a crumble topping for the apple pie instead of her usual flaky crust. I thought it would be a fun, welcomed change that would give us all something different to enjoy. Unfortunately, she never heard the end of the grumbling and comments about it. Even to this day, I feel bad for the innocent suggestion, though it gave us time to bond over baking. I guess there are just some things that you can never change.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.”
Mark 14: 22-25 (Common English Bible)

On the first Sunday of each month, my congregation gathers around the Lord’s Table for communion. There are always the familiar elements: the small square pieces of cut bread, plastic cups full of grape juice, a silver chalice with juice already evenly poured out, and a round piece of bread on the paten. White linen adorns the table so that everything is covered just so.

On my first Easter with the congregation, I invited all of the worshipers to come forward to break off a piece of bread from a common loaf and partake of an individual cup of juice. There was some confusion as our “decently and in order” Presbyterianism made walking forward and partaking of the meal in this new way an over-thought process. I love the imagery of coming forward to the Table but, like anything, there were a few who said, “That was, well, nice,” trailing off in their comment with a smile.

The more I think about it, the more I wrestle with the fact that the Lord’s Supper is not just a nice meal that we celebrate because Jesus told us to do so. It was Passover and he chose to be with his closest twelve companions instead of the crowds he so often embraced. The simple bread and cup were the last communal meal to touch his lips before his betrayal, torture and death on the cross. I don’t mean to downplay that sacred moment.

Do we ever stop to think that the meal that we eat is the last meal of a man who was executed by political leaders? The bread that we eat and the cup that we drink, even the words that we say, are a part of the final hours of a man deemed a criminal by the Roman and religious powers of his day? Jesus was such a threat that those with power and privilege believed that the last resort, crucifixion, had to be taken or their political and religious leadership was at risk. If we dare to partake of communion weekly or monthly, we are defying the political prowess of our own day by testifying that we are governed by a different, holy power, too. We believe that neither execution nor death will ever have the last say for the one whom we call Messiah.

We could celebrate communion in our congregations and deem it nothing more than a holy tradition that feeds us to face the daily challenges of life. We could yearn for the familiarity of a Table with the same elements time and time again. I suppose that is reason enough for us, sometimes. But on those days when we need more, when God needs more from us, the Table reminds us that God is about anything but simple traditions. The story expands, tables turn, and a meal is transformed into a countercultural revolution that alters history over and over again.

The Marital Politics of Communion and A Letter to Our Son

My husband grew up Catholic.  He still tells his mother he claims dual-citizenship as Catholic and Lutheran.  As part of our decision to get married, we made a decision that we value worshipping together as a family.  My husband joyfully joined the Lutheran church, with the full support of his parents.  However, the things we grew up with have a way of affecting us as adults, even if we think we’ve made a conscious decision.  This has become clear to us as we try to make decisions about our toddler son David’s faith life.  Our denominational policy on communion is that you can have communion as soon as you’re baptized, normally when you can have solid food, but local custom varies widely.

medium_169252325On Sunday mornings, as my husband would bring our son up the aisle for communion, he would smile and happily kick his legs.  Maybe because he saw his Mom, and maybe because he wanted bread.  Then he would look sad when he did not get held by Mom OR get bread.  Around 13 months he stopped coming to the table with that joy he once had, and it broke my heart.  So, we started a discussion in our home about giving David communion.

It was complicated.  At one point, my husband threw up his hands, and loudly said, “Only when you are married to a pastor does when to give your child communion become a martial conflict!”  Since he grew up Catholic, he never imagined he could be married to a pastor.  Most days this gives him joy, but not all days.  After talking and praying, we finally agreed to give our son communion on All Saint’s Sunday.  David is named partly for my father who passed away, but gave me a good foundation of faith before his death.  We thought this might be a meaningful way to honor his role in the faith of our family.

Below is the letter I composed to my son on the day of his first communion.  It lays out some of the reasons we made the decision that we made.  Most children in our congregation take communion already, so we periodically offer “New to Communion” class with graduation on Maundy Thursday.


All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dear David,

Today you had your first communion.  Tomorrow you will turn 14 months old.  You’ve been stealing bread from Daddy for awhile, but today you got your own during communion.  (Sometimes, before, you got your own after.)  I know you are young, but here is what I want you to know:

  1.  You can always come to Jesus with a huge smile kicking your legs excitedly.  You come to mommy at communion this way now.
  2. Jesus is a good place to go when you are hungry.  Remember that when you know communion is more then a snack.
  3. Jesus is a great place to have a break or to change what you’re doing.  You love getting out the pew with Daddy and coming up front.
  4. Jesus can fill you up with good and yummy things.  In our current church, we use real bread at communion.
  5. Jesus loves and cares for your whole being, including your body and stomach.

These are things you can know about Jesus and communion now.  You will know more later, and will always be on a journey of learning more about Jesus and your faith and the amazing promises of forgiveness and new life we have in Jesus.  It is okay that you don’t understand everything now – none of us understand everything.

Mommy’s heart soared today when I gave you the bread and said “Body of Christ, Given for You”.  Your eyes lit up and you were so excited.  I hope you will, most of the time, always be this excited to experience Jesus.

I love you so very much my son, and God loves you even more.  You are a blessed and loved Child of God for always.  Jesus came for everyone, including you.  I love you with all my heart and pray that you will be strengthened though the gifts of Christ’s body and blood now and always.


Pastor Mommy (Daddy has you call me this sometimes.)

P.S.  We decided on All Saints Day in honor of your Grandpa David who is with God now, but is watching and encouraging your faith journey from there.



i  Paraphrase of: The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament, Adopted for guidance and practice by the Fifth Biennial Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, August 19, 1997.  Accessed PDF Feburary 18, 2013 from, pp.  39-41

Election Day Communion

“Election Day Communion- Tuesday,  Nov 6 at 12:15PM in the upper chapel. As our nation goes to the polls, let us gather at God’s table- not as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, but as brothers and sisters in Christ”.

“Election Day Communion- Tuesday,  Nov 6 at 12:15PM in the upper chapel- As our nation goes to the polls, let us gather at God’s table to celebrate that we are all one in Christ”.

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The Call to Create: An Interview with Mary Allison Cates

Communion, copyright 2009

There is one room in my house that tells much of the story. An easel, acrylic paints, a sewing machine, stacks and stacks of fabric, and print-making tools abound. My six-month-old son primes himself for crawling on a nearby blanket while sounds of my three-year-old’s post naptime jabber drift in from the adjoining room. I am a parish associate at a Presbyterian church, where my responsibilities include preaching and leading a Bible study once a month. At another church, I co-lead a study group once a week. My office space is not located in these churches. Instead, it consists of a laptop on my bed and this one room of my house where so many creative outlets vie for my attention.

Faithful questioning and grappling with mystery have always been part of my personality, as have the enterprises of getting my hands dirty and making things. Because I was raised in a church that nurtured me intellectually and emotionally, and where the folks most like me were the ministers, I grew to see ministry as a natural medium for me to be who I am.

Similarly, my desire to create took shape in my basic high school and college art classes, where I began to see drawing, acrylic painting, and print-making as potential means for expression. My lifelong exposure to my mother’s love and skill for sewing has recently opened me up to quilting and crafting my children’s clothes. In each case, I have used the mechanisms that are convenient to me to give voice to my God-given leanings. I think we all do this. If I had grown up in a different time and place, perhaps I would now be a philosopher with a passion for basket weaving!

Tell us about your rhythms and routines for creating–do you have a particular time each day or week? How do you “get ready”? Which tools (whether physical or spiritual) do you find indispensable for your creative work? Read more