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No token? No communion!

holy communion sacrament table

I was raised Presbyterian, but I never heard of communion tokens growing up.

The idea was, right before taking communion, you presented a metal token to show that you were in good standing—fit to receive the sacrament. John Calvin suggested that tokens be used “to prevent the profanation of the Lord’s Table.” No token? No communion.

Communion token box; Lewes [DE] Presbyterian Church.
Communion token box; Lewes [DE] Presbyterian Church.

Now wait a minute. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of that German church in 1517, railing against indulgences. Aren’t communion coins pretty much the same idea? Surely there was a black market for communion coins for less than upstanding church members who needed to pass as such just the same. And yet the communion coin only started to fall out of use from about 1825.

At the Lewes [DE] Presbyterian Church, built in 1707, they used copper communion coins, dropped in a wooden box brought around the pews like a collection plate.

Tokens of the 1700s tended to be plain, and were marked with initials of the church’s or the minister’s name and sometimes with a date.

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