Communion most foul: How not to use a cellphone in a holy place

This is the kind of brief “news” story that makes me (a) laugh out loud and then (b) once I have laughed out loud, a wave of depression crashes in and I am tempted to rethink my opposition to the death penalty.

I work and teach on a university campus, which means that I spend untold hours watching young people use cell telephones and meditating on how these devices are changing our lives. Pop test: name creative ways that cellphones (with digital cameras) might be used to cheat on tests. Anyway, it is in this context that I pass along this item from The Living Church. I cannot provide a URL for this because a friend (a recovering Episcopalian stuck with a lifetime subscription) scanned it in. This comes from an organist-choirmaster in a parish that was not named (for obvious reasons):

When it’s time to receive communion, it is our custom for the choir to communicate first, so here we are, all kneeling at the communion rail, me last in the far corner of the L-shaped rail. Five or six people removed from me, and around the corner of the L at an angle from which I can see and hear everything, is one of my basses. As we await our turns, from deep within the folds of his choir robe, this fellow’s cell phone announces its presence by playing a spirited version of the opening measures of the Finale of the William Tell Overture. By the second — extended — playing, he has fumbled through the ample recesses of his garment (he is a large man) and extracted the offending instrument. He mutters a few words into it, closes it, redeposits it in the depths of his robe, and receives the wafer on his tongue.

I am appalled but think, “Well, that ends that.” No. The best, as the saying goes, is yet to come. As the chalice bearer approaches, this dolt’s phone rings again. Experience being the best teacher, he answers on the first ring but this time begins a conversation! As the chalice arrives, he says (I’m not kidding), “Wait a minute; I’m taking communion” — the chalice-bearer is standing there, waiting patiently — and takes the phone away from his ear. With his other hand, he guides the chalice to his lips, takes a hurried swig, and returns to his phone conversation.

There isn’t much else to say. But I sense a Washington Post Style cover story on the way! I wish I could write it myself. So this raises the GetReligion reader-response question for the week (or at least for today, maybe, I may ask another): What is the worst cell-phone sin that you have witnessed in a religious sanctuary?

Come on people, you can do it. Pitch in and we can top the comment total for “When bad music happens to a Good God.”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.timdrake.blogspot.com Tim Drake

    This isn’t a cell-phone “sin,”; in fact, it might just be the opposite – if that’s possible.

    Have you ever witnessed someone standing in line to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, cell phone in hand, reading an online examination of conscience?

  • http://blog.boydston.us Brad Boydston

    I once attended a funeral where a man in the front row received a phone call. Instead of turning off the device, he answered it, stood up, and moved to a front corner of the church. He faced the corner, like a child being punished, and carried on a conversation in front of the 400 mourners to whom he had his back.

    A few minutes later he sat down in his seat and the phone rang again. He returned to his phone booth for a second conversation.

  • http://www.geocities.com/lclabauve Lynn

    Briefly interrupting a phone call to receive communion? That is truly tacky.

  • John

    I go to a conservative, chandelier-swinging Pentecostal church, which means we take the sermon very seriously. The Pastor was delivering the opening prayer, really going at it, thumping the pulpit and haranging the Almighty about something, and he pauses for effect. Complete reverent silence reigns above bowed heads as he draws breath for another swing at Heaven. Into this comes a tinny rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, and the chap behind me digs through his briefcase, answers his phone, and says in ringing tones “I can’t talk now, Jonathan, I’m in church” “What? I don’t care! tell her…..” He stood up, and continued his loud conversation at full volume while elbowing aside his neighbours (Who by now were assuredly not praying), and striding purposefully down the aisle, and lecturing whoever rang him. The devotional mood was by now shattered.

  • Rong

    Knowing my senior pastor I’d hate to even imagine the conversation that he and the elders would have had with this person (the word gentleman almost slipped in there).

    Excommunication comes to mind, oops sorry that’s Catholics, but not a bad idea :-)

  • http://conordugan.typepad.com Conor Dugan

    One of our parish priests was beginning his homily when HIS cell phone went off. At first people didn’t know where the ring was coming from and so as to reassure people so that no one would scowl at any of the parishoners he said, “That’s my cell phone,” and he fumbled around under the ambo looking for it. He was able to stop the ringing but he had not turned down the ringer because a moment or two later the new voicemail ringer began going off and he had to struggle to find the phone again.

    A friend of mine was going to confession at World Youth Day in Toronto and his confession was interuppted when the priest’s cell phone went off. Thankfully, the priest did not answer it but still my friend who is a Luddite was particularly angry and used it as fodder in his anti-cell phone crusade.

    Neither of these examples seems as tacky as the communicant mentioned in the article or the person at the funeral but I thought I’d add another story.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Reader Brian Bennett sent in this cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan, who has published hundreds of cartoons in The New Yorker and written for Seinfeld and Six Feet Under:

    http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/dyingcall.jpg

    I’m unable to find this sketch on The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank — http://www.cartoonbank.com — but I’m happy to promote these books by Kaplan:

    The Cat That Changed My Life: 50 Cats Talk Candidly About How They Became Who They Are:

    http://makeashorterlink.com/?V2D9324F7

    No One You Know: A Collection of Cartoons:

    http://makeashorterlink.com/?S1F9514F7

    This Is a Bad Time: A Collection of Cartoons:

    http://makeashorterlink.com/?O10A254F7

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