Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

This is My Body, Packaged for You

Written by: on November 6, 2023

NOTE: The following “stream of consciousness” essay contains possible emotional triggers.


I grew up devoutly Catholic. I was an Altar Boy. I attended parochial school. I was spanked by a nun. Seriously, she bent me over the edge of her desk and used the “board of education” on my hinder parts. It only happened once. I’m a quick learner.

Ever since I was young, I thought I wanted to grow up and become a Catholic priest. Then someone shared with me how priests were to remain celibate. I had to look the word ‘celibate’ up in the dictionary, and well, being celibate is a strong deal breaker. I opted to become a pastor instead. I could serve God and still have sex.

Don’t judge me.

Growing up in Catholicism, I had a deep respect for the Lord, and for the Eucharist, in which I now refer to as Communion or the Lord’s Supper. In those early days, as an Altar Boy, I would stand in front of the priest and he would place the communion wafer on my extended tongue, while my nostrils drew in the stench of cigar and his bourbon-soaked breath. I can remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was over 40 years ago. He was the very same priest that administered the Eucharist to my Dad when he was a young man.

That young man, later to be my Dad, witnessed a number of occasions in which that priest made sexual advancements with young men in the parsonage. It wasn’t until I was in my late 40’s (long after the death of that priest), while trying to help my Dad process some deep pain and unresolved issues, that the following came to the surface:  in an effort to keep my Dad quiet, the priest paid Dad “hush money” for many years, in the form of expensive trips to Rome (The Vatican) and tuition so my brother and I were able to attend an expensive Catholic school.

Augustine famously stated that “The essence of sin is disordered love.”

We all have sin. We have all fallen short. We all have disordered loves.

My point in bringing up my childhood, as well as my Dad’s childhood, is NOT to throw shade at the Catholic Church. They have, understandably and correctly, had plenty of shade thrown at them. Nor is my point to diminish that sin, the harm, nor the harm that has been leveled against many at the hands of “men of the cloth.” To be fair, the evangelical church and a share of its pastoral leaders have not been innocent in this regard either.

Again, we have all fallen short. Dr. Clark, in reference to a quote from James K. A. Smith, and in conjunction with Vincent Miller, says “better theologies do not necessarily lead to better practices” (Clark, 227). Commodification has a way of separating beliefs from practice (Clark, 228). So, yah, priests can administer the Sacraments while messing with kids. Sad, but true.

Again, the essence of sin is disordered love. Smith asserts that we are, and we are shaped by what we love (James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 22).  With this in mind, I’m drawn to a series of questions that Miller asks, which are pertinent to my painful musings this week:

• How does the Eucharist affect believers’ understanding and practice of consumption?

• What similarities and differences do believers see between such consumption and their reception of the Eucharist?

• How is the Eucharist affected by consumption?

Even Miller admits that “these questions are very difficult to answer” (Miller, 227). I agree with him. These questions lead me even deeper into my own personal journey from Catholicism to Evangelicalism. In my early 20’s I worked part-time at a local Christian Bible bookstore, while scrapping by financially as a pastor. I sold Christian music during the era of “If you like this secular band ________, you’ll LOVE ____________ (this Christian band). I sold a lot of Precious Moments figurines, Left Behind books, Lord’s Gym t-shirts, and, wait for it, Testamints (“The Mint with a Message”). That particular Bible bookstore is where our local Foursquare church would purchase communion elements (this was pre-Amazon!).

Even now, once a month, usually the 1st Sunday, ushers hand out prefilled communion cups which contains 100% Concord Grape Juice Blend and an Unleavened Soft Wafer. Gluten free options now available.

I jokingly say to our church:  This is Jesus’ Body, Packaged for You.

I appreciate the ease and convenience of these prepackaged elements. But what’s the true cost? What’s happening to our souls in the process? In Catholicism, there is the belief of “Transubstantiation” – the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the actual body and blood of Christ at consecration, with only the appearance of bread and wine still remaining. As an Evangelical Protestant, I/we do not hold to this understanding. But here’s what I fear we may hold to, generally speaking:  the communion elements are just something we peel back, consume, discard, and move on to other portions of “the service”(even that term denotes consumerism)! Are we, inadvertently, nurturing a culture of consumption:  “What’s next? Hopefully it’s my favorite song that I heard on K-Love. Oh, and, next time, can the band not be so loud, the service be slightly shorter, and the preacher be funnier? Please and thank you.”

Do I come across cynical? OK, maybe a little. But, that’s not my heart. I sincerely love Jesus’ church; the BODY of Christ. Not the tiny, hermetically sealed version, however. Jesus’ body was broken for us, messy, disfigured beyond recognition, not packaged and sold in a 500 count box, with free shipping.

I love how Dr. Clark puts it, “The Eucharist is the countermove, and act of resistance, in which the false embodiments of market relationships are resisted” (Clark, 194).

And resist we must. Actually, we must repent.

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

13 responses to “This is My Body, Packaged for You”

  1. mm Tim Clark says:

    John, really compelling writing!!

    As you write about how we approach the Lord’s Table it brings to mind what Jason wrote about taking tradition out of context… that instead of leaning into the practice on its own terms, we often lift it out for what it can do for us.

    I think that’s what we often do with communion, worship, the word, discipleship… all of it.

    You got me thinking deeply about what we need to repent for (which means to change our thinking and our actions).

    How does this impact your own pastoral context? What does it inspire you to repent (change)?

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Your reply immediately made me think of “baby dedications.” We have a practice in our protestant church of dedicating children and parents unto the Lord. Not infant baptism. Not salvation. Just praying and dedicating them as we see in Hannah and Samuel, as well as with Mary/Joseph and Jesus.

      It’s a special time, with wonderful significance.

      And yet….I often feel as if it is one big photo op. Bring families on stage, show off their kiddos, pray for them – and by the way – each of those aspects is right and good in its own good right…however, when we slap the label ‘sacrament’ on it, and other families think “gosh, I wanna do that!” then have we done a great disservice to the Kingdom? I don’t know. I often feel similar regarding mass baptisms, calls for salvation (lift your head and let your eyes meet mine…could it be any more secretive!?!?), etc. etc. etc.

      While we’re at it…are the current metrics that are valued in the big C church one massive form of consumerism? We’re tracking numbers and reporting them to our denomination, for what again?

      Cynical? nope. Just vexed with lots of questions.

  2. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    I think we may have a trauma bond…I was also raised Catholic and attended Catholic school and I was OFTEN paddled by Nuns. I would try to place tissue in my underwear to soften the blows…it only earned me more licks. I am sending you a virtual hug this very moment.

    Okay, back to your post. This question that Miller asks, “How is the Eucharist affected by consumption?” is so difficult for me. I appreciate your words and how you address it, but I can’t make peace this viewing it this way. Like you, I love Jesus and The Body of Christ. I want accepting the Eucharist to always be a sacred act for me whether it is pre-packaged or not.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Jonita, interestingly I hadn’t heard the term “trauma bonding” until very recently – post-Covid. It’s an aside, but I’d be curious of the genesis of that term, and more importantly, the rise of it into our current zeitgeist.

      Having said that, I appreciate the sensitivity in which you approach the sacrament/elements of Jesus’ body and blood. I really believe that there is (and must continue) to remain a ‘remnant’ of those that take it seriously. It’s not just a silly little plastic cup ‘packaged for you.’

      It’s so much more than that. And you get that. I (often) get that. Perhaps it’s not about the size or packaging of the communion elements and the heart in which we invite people to the table of the Lord.

      I, for one, am always trying to reimagine, relook, restore that experience for myself and the people I am honored to lead.

      • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

        You are correct, I believe that “Trauma Bonding” has become more popular post-COVID. I am using it as a shared traumatic experience that we can bond over. Catholic School and Paddle Wielding Nuns tend to leave an imprint. We can have a drink together in DC and swap stories.

        This statement is beautiful and leaves me feeling so hopeful, “I, for one, am always trying to reimagine, relook, restore that experience for myself and the people I am honored to lead.” Thank you for sharing!

  3. Kally Elliott says:

    1. I despise those pre-packaged Jesus wafers and blood.
    2. Your quote: “the communion elements are just something we peel back, consume, discard, and move on to other portions of “the service” I think this is a real danger.
    3. My mom had a liver transplant 12 years ago and now takes meds to keep her immune system from attacking her new liver. She has to use the pre-packaged Jesus if she wants to take communion bc she can’t take the risk of ingesting germs that, let’s be real, are shared during regular communion. For her, pre-packaged Jesus is a real gift. I wonder if we might offer a different perspective – of this being a true gift…or something else…
    4. The grape juice in those things is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      While in Oxford, at Christ Church, I took communion from a ‘common cup’ of wine – it was shared by all – unless a person choose to pass it up and pick up a packaged element.

      I drank from the common cup. I had not done that since being in Catholic Church as a young person/altar boy.

      It was kinda surreal. My first thought was, “Man, do these people know we’re living in a Covid-world?!?!” And then it hit me: the Lord’s Table is about sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and in the sufferings of Christ’s people. That’s not a get-out-of-jail free card when it comes to passing on viruses, but rather, a reminder that we are all in this together. It’s a, wait for it, common cup.

      Jesus said, “let this cup pass, but alas your will Father, not mine” (slightly paraphrased).

      Certainly in deference to your Mother who has to be very, very careful, I wonder if that moment drinking from the common cup is a course correction for me and the people I lead. We can isolate and inoculate everyone from everything. Suffering is as much a part of our theology and practice as is glory.

  4. Jennifer Vernam says:

    John- thanks for sharing this bit of your experience. I am so sad that you and your dad had to unpack all of this pain…and that it came from an institution and leaders who were supposed to be representing Christ.

    Reading your comments and others this week, I am reminded of the concepts of whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:25), clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1) and God not listening to our prayers (Isaiah 1:11-17). I am becoming more and more convinced that sin is less about what you do and more about how you do it. In other words… is it not all about attitude?

    (Also, Precious Moments dolls!)

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      You reading my post got you thinking about stuff, and me reading your reply got me thinking about stuff. It’s almost as if Dr. Clark and the team knew what they were doing when they established the blogging format!

      I got to thinking about all the ‘harm’ I have caused, but isn’t to the degree or severity of what so many have experienced at the hands of Catholic priests. Their sin is highly public (and for good reason). So many other points of ‘church hurt’ never hits the news, but is equally deplorable.

      It’s a reminder that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. It’s a subsequent reminder that it is by grace that we have been saved.

      So, I too (and this is not a case of false humility…) have been a clanging cymbal, and whitewashed tomb. God forgive ME.

      That’s what you sparked in my heart. Thanks A LOT Jenn! (said tongue-in-cheek!).

  5. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi John,

    Wow, what a profound story. Thanks for sharing it.

    I too grew up Catholic. My family moved away from it at an early age, but I never lost the sense of AWE when approaching God. I have always wondered at people who said that they were “angry” with God. It seemed like spitting in the wind. But I guess some people like spit.

    You wrote, “I love how Dr. Clark puts it, “The Eucharist is the countermove, and act of resistance, in which the false embodiments of market relationships are resisted” (Clark, 194).
    And resist we must. Actually, we must repent.

    Isn’t there a song which calls us back to the “heart of Jesus?”

    Perhaps that is my act of resistance to consumerism and its cousin capitalism.

    Seeking HIS face rather than the Black Friday Christmas sales.

    Great blogpost.


    • mm John Fehlen says:

      I forget if I mentioned it in my blog post, but if not, then here it is: I have a deep sense of AWE for God and deep appreciation for what my season in the Catholic Church did to foster that awe within my heart and life.

      As a card-carrying member of evangelicalism, with a passport stamp from Pentecostal-land, I miss some of that “awe.” I think it is woefully lacking in our corner of protestantism.

      And for that, yes, we are called back to the heart of Jesus.

  6. Jenny Dooley says:

    Thank you for sharing your family story. I both grieve with you and am grateful for those conversations you were able to have with your dad.

    Thank you for your insights into communion. I sometimes wonder if communion isn’t perceived as another step that move us along through the service and out the door without any connection to what we are actually participating in. I wish we paused longer. I love it when we do things different, like taking the elements with another person or with our small group. What ideas or ways do you think might help us connect more with the countermove and act of resistance aspect of communion? It is so easy to skip over the beauty of this gesture and miss Jesus’ presence.

  7. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    It’s funny..in my world we rely on those “prepackaged” eucharist cups. It’s a necessity since we drive miles and hours in our car. What’s funny is trying to explain this on an expense form. I hate that you’ve had this story in your background. I have stories like it too outside of the Catholic Church. I love how you love the church anyway. The body of Christ is bigger than brick and mortar, and it’s full of brokeness, and God love us. What a gift.

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