02/13/2011. Journal entry. (Written/posted March 7, 2011.) One of the those milestones in the life of a male convert. The elderly African man who I saw baptized in July 2009
blessed the sacrament today. (I had met him in April 2007
, and he started investigating the church in December 2008
I normally give him a ride to church. He called me before I left home to pick him up, and informed me that he was to bless the sacrament that day, and needed to be there a little early. One of his home teachers had previously gone over it with him, but he was still a bit confused.
We normally sit in the back of the chapel, and his eyesight is so bad that he can't see what's going on at the sacrament table. So although he has attended often, and has heard the prayers often, he has literally never seen the blessing of the sacrament, nor the actions and motions that the young men go through during the ritual.
Since I knew he had never seen it, and I knew how no one thinks to train a convert in how to do it, I realized he was going to be very unprepared.
He was unaware that one priest blesses the water and the other does the bread. And though his home teacher and I (and I think the missionareis too) explained that, it didn't sink in. He thought that since was asked to "bless the sacrament", and not told which one ahead of time, he took it literally, and assumed he was asked to bless both. He also took the "wear a white shirt" instruction to mean that he should remove his jacket (suit coat) for the sacrament. I think he actually bought a white shirt for the occasion.
As he's an older person who likes to practice things before going "on stage", I knew he was not going to be comfortable with the mere verbal description that his home teacher gave. We got there early enough, and I grabbed the full-time missionaries to give him a walk-through at the table, so he could see them going through the motions at least.
I was like a helicoptering parent with a child who was about to do his first recital, hoping for the best, but worried some disaster may hit.
I remembered back to my first time blessing the sacrament, so I pretty much identified with his fears. I was a 24-year old convert, baptized less than two months previously. No one told me the priests were reading the prayers from a card. I thought they had them memorized. I was also disappointed back then that I wasn't given a walk-through or dress rehearsal to practice. Kids who grow up in the church see it hundreds of times as deacons and teachers, so it sinks in by the time they're 16. But to someone who had seen it only 10 or so times, and hadn't memorized the motions and hand-offs, etc., it can be daunting. The importance and solemnity of the ordinance magnify the fear of screwing up, let alone normal stage fright of being in front of an audience.
Young people and old people learn differently. Just saying "follow the lead of the other guy" isn't sufficient for an adult who has never actually seen the blessing of the sacrament. It's not just saying the prayers. It's uncovering and recovering the trays with the linen, when to stand, when to tear the bread, how to tear the bread, when to kneel, when to hand off the trays, when to receive the trays, when to take the emblems yourself, when to sit back down, etc.
So I was a bit disappointed that whoever it was who asked him to bless the sacrament didn't see to it that he got actual advance training of what to do. Although I didn't want to step on anyone's territory, or assume authority I didn't have, I grabbed the missionaries and asked them to give him a walk-through. If the ward has a "sacrament coordinator", he dropped the ball that day. I think everyone assumed someone else was going to train him, or just assumed wrongly that he had seen
it done enough times, which he hadn't.
Because his home teacher didn't know which part he was going to bless, his home teacher printed out both prayers in large print on his computer, putting each phrase on a separate line. (This may also have given the convert the impression he was to do both prayers.)
Anyway, aside from him actually reciting both prayers (to the confusion of the young priest who was on the stand with him) everything went smoothly. He recited them perfectly, and did not need to repeat. And his diction was perfect, as he made extra effort to overcome his African-English accent.
So perhaps I felt a little bit like how a parent feels when their 16 year old blesses the sacrament for the first time.
If I may make a suggestion to bishoprics, sacrament coordinators and home teachers, please give adult converts an actual walk-through (or even a dress rehearsal) of doing the sacrament before asking them to actually do it. Give the person at least a few weeks notice, and suggest they sit up front, behind the row of deacons, to observe for a week or two. And, do a walk-through with them, either before or after your block of meetings when there are few or no other people in the chapel. Make an extra trip to the chapel to do it in private if need be. Even the act of practicing tearing a piece of bread to appropriate size pieces helps.
Every adult convert I've talked to has been disappointed with the lack of preparation given them for their first time blessing the sacrament. It's rather unnerving to be asked/told to do something without proper preparation. It's something that long-term members take for granted, and they don't realize that a recent convert hasn't "learned by observation" growing up with it like the youth do.