*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 29th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

When I was a kid, I ate Flinstones vitamins, not for any nutritional value but because they were sometimes the sweetest things I could find in the house. And this is not unrelated to my similar desire to over-jelly my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (my youngest has complained I put too much jelly on the sandwich). And all of this is can be tied back to significant changes made in the distribution of the Lord’s Supper in American churches in the 1800s.

The grape revolution would be led by Thomas Bramwell Welch, who died on, the 29th of December in 1903.

Welch was born in England in 1825 and moved with his family to New York in 1834. Welch joined a group of Christians called the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion. Real fast: you may see this group referenced and will notice an unusual spelling- there is what seems to be an unnecessary X in the word, making it look like a church youth group from the 90s (like when a “z” is added instead of an “s”). But these “connexions” were what we might think of as “para-church organizations” that, before becoming their denomination, would hold meetings, invite speakers, and work through theological and social issues. The Wesleyan Methodist Connexion would form its denomination over the problems of slavery (they were abolitionists) and prohibition.

I promise that we will get to the story of prohibition and the church one of these days. I find it interesting that it was not always utopian moralizers- or goody-two-shoes. Instead, the mass production of alcohol and predatory marketing and pricing hurt the lower classes.

But back to Welch.

His church, and others with similar moral qualms about alcohol, had often been uneasy about using wine for communion. There were a few options: water down wine with much water. Two: use one of the less reliable and more complicated methods for making grape juice (remember, with no refrigeration, juice would last a few hours at best- and when grapes have crushed, the yeast from the skin begins breaking down into alcohol immediately). And the most common practice for dealing with this issue? Celebrate communion less frequently. Maybe four times a year, maybe once a year.

Welch, however, being a man of science (he was a dentist by trade), heard of the new method being used by Louis Pasteur. Welch would thus “pasteurize” the juice by heating it briefly to kill the harmful bacteria. Therefore, it could keep, but it tasted good and became a popular non-alcoholic option for communion and elsewhere. It was popularized by Thomas’s son Charles who took it to the Worlds Expo in 1893. It was served by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan at the White House, and a gelatinous version of it was given to American troops in World War 1. That and peanut butter became cheap food for soldiers- and when they returned, that wartime food became a lunchtime staple. Welchs became a name trusted by kids and mothers alike and thus would become appropriate sponsors for the Flintstones and the Flintstones line of vitamins.

Let’s wrap this topic up briefly by noting that most Christians across space and time have used wine for communion. This does not mean that what everyone drinks is the same as what you do. Kind of grape, amount drank, etc.… has changed. At times in the Roman Catholic Church, only the bread was given (the idea was that true flesh would have true blood in it, and thus….).

Jesus most likely drank something like an Italian red, which would have been common in his day. It would be watered down (table wine could be as much as a 1/8 part dilution with water). It could have preserving agents of questionable utility or additives for taste.

As we watch the history of Christian corporate worship, we often see how the sacraments ebb and flow as part of that worship. The modern temperance movement was long suspicious of the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper. Thomas Bramwell Welch would use modern science to create a long-lasting non-alcoholic version of the fruit of the wine, thus reintroducing the Lord’s Supper to many Christians in corporate worship. Born in 1825, Welch was 77 years old when he died on this day in 1903

The Last Word for today comes John 2:

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. 9 The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom ten and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.” 11 This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite grapes include “of Wrath,” grapeshot, and “Grape Ape;” he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man enjoying grape flavored candy from his stocking- grape Hi-Chew and Laffy Taffy. I am Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.