First off, the church beadle (I didn’t know the meaning of this word until I came to Scotland, but a beadle is a lay person who may usher, keep order, make reports, and assist in religious functions or a minor official who carries out various civil, educational, or ceremonial duties in the worship activities of the congregation) named Drew would be charged with acquiring the communion bread for the celebration of the sacrament. Drew would not just pick out an ordinary loaf of bread, but always picked up a loaf of artisan bread from the Manna House Bakery and Patisserie in Leith. The smells of the bread would always be the first thing that hit me on communion Sundays at Greyfriars. The smell of these fresh breads baked with particular herbs wafted throughout the cavernous Greyfriars sanctuary.
Because Greyfriars has a very large space around the Lord’s Table and chancel area, at the time of communion, all would be invited to gather around the table in a large circle. We would take the bread and tear off a large piece and pass it to our neighbors who could be choir members, university students both local and international, young children, longtime members of the city and church, or homeless and destitute people looking for food and nourishment through communion and beyond.
I’ll never forgot one of the pillars of Greyfriars, a wonderful woman who sang in the choir and who was always so positive and supportive of everyone, befriending one of the older men who came to the church each week. He never bathed and always wore the same smelly outfit and kilt to worship. (That could also be a distinct smell I associated with Greyfriars communion in addition to the bread!) One day, standing in front of the table in the middle of the beautiful Greyfriars sanctuary, basking in the glow of the colorful stained glass, I remember this woman apologizing to this man because many days she would fix him a sandwich and some lunch food for him to take home, but she had been too busy and had not gotten to it on this particular day. She was apologizing because she only had some money to give him for lunch and she was so sorry and would do better next week. This is the body of Christ broken for you, I thought, is it not?
The last thing that is distinctive about communion at Greyfriars is the wine.. not grape juice, but port, which I believe is mandated by the Church of Scotland for all communion services. The taste of the wine is sweet and acidic, especially on a hungry stomach. The taste always reminded me of the distinctiveness of this meal and the distinctiveness of the people who gathered around this table. We would all drink from the same common cup and we could all see each other and face each other as we passed the communion chalice from person to person. The blood of Christ shed for you; this gathered a community of Christians from all over the world and put before us our common life and identity in Christ. It transcended our particular nations or particular cultures.
Sharing communion in this community of faith was a clear reminder of our primary identity in Jesus Christ in whom there are truly no foreigners or strangers or aliens. I am grateful for the taste of that I got at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh.
CHRIS CURRIE is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport, La.