Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Back Story of Communion Tokens

Books and a bit of sugar; who's making the tea?
Once we have secured our tokens in protective flips, checked the listing in the guidebook, noted important characteristics on a card, and pinpointed the church our maps, then what?
     We dive into the history and ride the wave.
     Communion tokens are the real thing: relics that were there. They were in the church. They were held by parishioners. And they were handed to an elder on the big day. But, the tokens themselves are mute. We have to find other voices to make them come alive.
     There are several ways to explore this past. Church histories provide a direct route if you can find them. In addition, there are many books that describe everyday life in Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. I have also found that the history of Scottish politics is intertwined with the Reformation.
     For the armchair historian with a few tokens spread out on the table, I recommend traveling down these roads. I have been reading several books during this past year that have provided the back story of communion tokens. Certainly, Burns and Brook provide the specifics. But today, I will mention a sampling of books that provide context. I think you will find them compelling.
     Two books focus on the old Kirk. Bygone Church Life in Scotand edited by William Andrews (reprinted from 1899) is a fascinating collection of essays on church discipline to the indictment of witches. Old Church Life in Scotland: Lectures on Kirk-Session and Presbytery Records by Andrew Edgar (reprinted from 1885) also provides several chapters on discipline plus a detailed exploration of the communion service (including the use of CTs).
     A broader focus on daily life in 18th century Scotland will also provide you with the details you crave. For example, Parish Life in Eighteenth Century Scotland by Maisie Steven (1995/2002) is an analysis of the "Old Statistical Account" completed by John Sinclair in 1799 -- this book provides a portrait of the common folk who filled the pews and benches. On the more esoteric side, The Ballad and the Plough by David Kerr Cameron (2008) is a study of Scottish farming culture at the turn of the 18th century -- I am reading a few pages of this one each night, savoring the journey back in time.
     Finally, I include a thick tome aptly titled: The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch (2003). This out-stretched analysis provides more than you need to know, but it helped me appreciate how the Scottish Reformation fit into the unfolding drama sweeping across Europe -- from Zwingli to Calvin to Knox, the Scottish experience rose out of the convulsions in Geneva.
     These books make the CT collecting journey more colorful. And there are many more books out there that I have not mentioned, have not read, or have not discovered. All of them are readily available from the big booksellers -- and the first two are probably on-line for free download. So if you need an information fix, start with one of these. Or, pick your own route; after all, it is your collection -- make it speak to you!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much. My collection has always meant more than just owning the tokens; it's a connection to the past. I try to imagine the circumstances faced by the holder, how they travelled that day to the service, how thy felt when they handed over to the elder. This list of resources will help increase my understanding of these folk. Much appreciated.