The Body of Christ, Now Germ-Free

Beer stein or communion wafer dispenser?Wired reports on the brewing intellectual property war over hygienic churchware:

A Minnesota marketer of communion-wafer dispensers is accusing its former president of patent infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. (.pdf) … The handheld devices allow the dispensing of wafers without being touched by anybody but those receiving them. What’s more, the portable devices, according to the lawsuit, “easily deliver communion to military personnel in combat situations and to people who are hospitalized, infirm or otherwise immobile.”

Fit for “combat situations”? Battlefield-ready—I’ll take two. But alas, Nu-Life Products of Minnesota, while offering the latest in communion wafer dispenser “quad-rotator technology,” doesn’t have a website. However, their competitor, Purity Solutions, offers lovely models in gold, silver, and white (see front page for a product demonstration video with white-haired church ladies). The cost? (If you have to ask…) The “buy now” button leads to a screen saying to contact the sales department. Haven’t heard back yet on my pricing query email (subject line: “Purity costs”).

The dispensers call to mind the precautions that different sects tried during the big H1N1 panic. For example: the North American Old Catholic Church banned “exchanging the sign of peace by shaking hands, hugging, or other bodily contact.” And Methodists in Texas took communion with individually wrapped wafers and juice packets.

A child of intermarriage, my dad’s contribution to family religious life was the occasional, endearingly half-assed Jewish holiday celebration; my mom took responsibility for my rigorous Presbyterian upbringing—of which I remember surprisingly little, thanks to resentment-fueled repression. But suddenly, breaking the bread on years of Sundays is coming back to me: how everyone would thrust their hands into the center of an increasingly mangled loaf of sourdough, fishing out the softer, tastier morsels. That was always the best part of church.

Kiera Feldman is a Brooklyn-based print and public radio reporter.