My father’s side of the family hails from Hermann, Missouri, a town of 2,431. Hermann, which has its beginnings within German utopia philosophy, is the home of not one but two annual beer bashes: the Maifest and the Oktoberfest. Prohibition is referred to as “the dark days” and, judging by the bitterness over it, happened yesterday. Hermann has six family-owned wineries and about 2,431 homebrewers. I’d say that everyone and their grandfather homebrews in Hermann, and in my case I mean literally, because my Grandpa Oberg was one of them.
Grandpa never showed me his secrets — the fact that he was severely hearing impaired and neither one of us could sign didn’t help. But he always had a batch of homebrew on hand. I remember trying a sip of it as a small child and checking to see if my torso had developed body hair. I learned later that Grandpa had a reputation for making a strong batch of homebrew. His homebrew was so strong that at his funeral my cousins and I complained about the store-bought beer.
My grandparents attended the United Church of Christ in Swiss, a town so small that it doesn’t even appear on the map in the encyclopedia. The church was predominantly farmers, almost all of whom homebrewed. Rather than use the grape juice common at so many churches — that would be blasphemy — the church members took turns providing beer and wine for Communion. The glasses used to serve Communion were about the size of a shot glass, so you always got a good taste of the Blood of Christ.
One winter, when my father was a child, Grandpa Oberg brewed a batch. Nothing unusual there. However, this batch was stronger than normal. How much stronger? Think vodka. Just one shot was enough to get one tipsy. Even my alcoholic family members would stop after just one glass of this batch.
One Sunday, the minister finished his sermon, and the time came for Communion. “The Body of Christ, broken for you, take and eat,” he said, as the congregation ate the home-baked Host. Then he raised the cup. “The Blood of Christ, shed for you, take and drink.”
Imagine a room full of 30 farmers, their wives, children, and grandchildren all doing a shot of vodka at the same time and you’ve got an idea of what happened next. A lively debate erupted about the quality of the Blood of Christ and who had the better brew. Was the Oberg family’s the best, or was it the Doll family’s? And just how strong should a quality homebrew be when it’s used to serve Communion? Nothing but the best for Jesus. Eventually, order was restored, although people had their own humble and correct opinions about the Blessed Sacrament.
The Obergs were not asked to provide the hooch again, although we were allowed to continue receiving Communion. My father grew up, but was never asked to help with Communion. He moved to the big city (no, not Washington, Missouri, but Indianapolis, Indiana), married my mother and fathered my brothers (both of whom homebrew) and I. But even in Indianapolis, dad was never asked to serve Communion, let alone provide the Sacrament. It wasn’t until my senior year of college at Baylor University in Waco, Texas — the Vatican City of the Southern Baptists — that I was asked to help serve Communion.
But neither my relatives nor I have ever been asked to provide the Communion wine or beer.