A visitor once paid our church a visit and had some questions after the service. “What is your view on Christian education? Why don’t you sing any hymns? Do you use any version of the Bible other than the KJV? What do you believe about regeneration?” And then, in a rather puzzled tone, “What is it that everyone eats right after the reading of Scripture?”
Has the ritual of eating church candy become such a prominent part of our worship that someone new to the PRC runs the risk of supposing that this is some new way of partaking in the Lord’s Supper? Perhaps that would be an exaggeration, but such a noticeable practice raises some important issues. Ministers have, on occasion, found it distracting enough to pause and wait a moment until everyone is finished lest the word of God be lost in the shuffle. If it is that distracting, then I think each one of us ought to examine our habits in church to find out if they in any way rob us of the word of God.
It is never easy to examine ourselves or be criticized by someone. Our first response is usually to become defensive and give excuses. “It’s just a piece of candy. I need it to help me stay awake and pay attention. Everyone else does it. I can listen while I get my candy.” But, if the possibility exists that the word of God finds richer soil that produces more fruit, isn’t it worth trying to cultivate such a soil? Here is the challenge: just leave the candy home for a month and give special attention to those opening words of the sermon. Ask yourself, “Is the candy really worth the risks? Is there a better way to stay awake and pay attention? Could I better spend the time it takes to prepare candy for church and instructing children in proper candy-eating etiquette, with positive instruction in preparation for worship? Why do I ‘need’ that candy, anyway?”
If you are willing to take the challenge, I am quite confident that you will become much more aware of the commotion that comes with eating a piece of candy. There are some who are quite conscious of minimizing distraction and avoid noisy wrappers and rummaging around. Others seem to be oblivious to any distraction they may be causing. How self-conscious one is probably has something to do with one’s personality, but I think it is also something that develops over time. Parents may introduce the idea to their children with strict instructions not to make any noise or crunch hard candy with their teeth; but as time goes on, it becomes such a routine that little thought is given to the potential for distraction until ministers need to wait and visitors raise their eyebrows.
We may argue that this little disturbance fits nicely between the reading of Scripture and the sermon, and actually helps us listen in one way or another. This may be true in some cases, but if we make the effort to examine ourselves and observe others, chances are good that we will confess that the reality is more like this: Once the “settle in” routine of a piece of candy, getting comfortable in the bench, and solving any communication issues with others in the candy handout is complete, it takes another minute or two to find out where the minister is at in his train of thought. If the flow of the sermon is not easily picked up, the pleasures of a piece of candy may actually lull the mind into daydreaming about other plans or problems. The transition between reading and sermon is a rather critical time. It is like the time a tour guide begins the tour. If you are looking somewhere else when the group leaves, it may be very difficult to find the group again and the whole trip is tainted.
As far as the power of candy to enhance concentration and alertness, I have found no sound scientific evidence. I did find a good deal of evidence that sugar produces the opposite effect. Really, now, why do I eat that piece of candy? People generally eat a piece of candy because it tastes good. It is something to enjoy. We are looking for a little bit of pleasure before the long haul of the sermon. Perhaps it is a reward for having “survived” thus far. It is something to look forward to after enduring another fifteen minutes of church. Now put yourself in the place of the minister. Is this how you would like your audience to feel if you were the one bringing the most wondrous news in the world to them? More importantly, is God pleased with this reason for eating candy?
The issues of this habit are not limited to the candy-eater himself. Kids, and probably some adults, who are restricted from having candy usually can be found staring with envy until the last sugary juice is swallowed. What is going on in their heads?—envy? coveting? anger?—probably not a careful consideration of the opening words of the sermon. Sometimes the process of distributing candy down a row of squirmy children is more entertaining than a circus. The Bibles are hardly closed when every head turns toward the candy bag. The act begins with one who is unhappy with the next color in the life-saver roll. Next a piece falls and rolls up two benches. A cry of despair is followed by a clunk as the little one falls off the bench in the process of trying to look for it. Older siblings giggle. The parents frantically look back and forth trying to manage the affair with dirty looks. Just when things seem to settle down, the impatient ones chomp down their share with loud crunching. Those in the benches five rows behind are either more interested in the entertainment or are disgusted. Either way, these have also missed the critical opening sentences of the sermon and are destined to drift into daydreaming.
The word of God demands our full attention. If you are worn out and tired after a long hard week, try some coffee or a caffeine pill before going to church. The health risks are probably no different than a piece of candy, and they are scientifically proven to improve alertness and concentration. Don’t settle for the cheap reward of a sweet treat; the true reward for of a sermon well digested is peace in the soul and deeper knowledge of God.