In the 1800s, churches were worried about the rising trend of alcoholism. To combat this, they decided to look at the wine served during communion. The temperance movement, which was based on total abstinence, was a popular movement at the time. So the church began to think of ways to replace the alcoholic beverage. The solution was to substitute grape juice for wine.
This started the trend of using non-alcoholic beverages during communion. Many churches still use grape juice or other non-alcoholic beverages in place of wine for communion.
Modern Communion Elements
In 1869, Thomas Welch and his son Charles processed Concord grapes into juice and developed a flash pasteurization method. At the time, grape juice was used by churches as a non-alcoholic alternative to wine for communion. Welch’s company became the largest supplier of grape juice to the Methodist Church.
In 1934, the company began selling grape juice in supermarkets and Welch’s soon became a household name. Today, Welch’s is still family-owned and committed to producing quality grape juice and other products made from Concord grapes. While most people are familiar with Welch’s 100% grape juice, not as many know about the company’s history or its connection to the Methodist Church. Thanks to the efforts of Thomas and Charles Welch, countless people have been able to enjoy the benefits of grape juice for generations.
Thomas Welch PD-US
Origin of the idea
In the 1800s, science had not yet graced the world with refrigerators. So grape juice had to be stored at room temperature, and it wouldn’t take long for the drink to ferment into wine. The problem was that grapes were not available year round.
Communion Stewards came up with the idea of making their unfermented sacramental wine. They came up with an exciting recipe that involved adding hand-squashed grapes to boiling water. And finally, add egg white into the mix. This technique killed any bacteria that could have fermented the grape juice into wine. And since communion is a sacred act, using unfermented grape juice was seen as purer.
This “portable communion” concentrate could be stored at room temperature and used when needed. It wasn’t until later that refrigeration became commonplace and could preserve grape juice for longer periods. Consequently, there’s no need for portable communion these days – except maybe in emergencies!
While the “experiment” continued, other churches decided to go with water, and they declared it the only proper drink for communion events. They sighted the verse in the bible where Jesus turned water to wine at a ceremony in Cana (John 2:1-12) as justification for their decision to go with water.
It soon became a topic of debate, and different opinions were thrown in the ring — some people believed that the biblical mandate was to use wine, and as such, wine should be used by all except those purposely abstaining from wine (temperance).
On the other side of the divide were people who believed that the wine used at the last supper was unfermented and insisted on using grape juice or water rather than wine. Fast forward to 1864, the Methodist Episcopal Church adopted the recommendation of the report from the temperance committee that advocated for the use of pure grape juice in celebrating the lord’s supper.
Did you know? A few years after, Dr. Thomas Welch was made communion steward at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Vineland, New Jersey he vowed to find a lasting solution to the issue of temperance and began looking into ways of making unfermented sacramental wine for his congregation.
Before Welch arrived at Vineyard, he served as a Wesleyan minister. Sadly, he couldn’t continue his ministry because of throat problems and decided to start a dental practice. While he was at it, he looked into Louis Pasteur’s work to see if Pasteur’s technique could be adapted for making unfermented grape juice.
His efforts paid off in 1869. He developed a unique pasteurization method that could be used to keep grape juice from fermenting and keep it fresh year round. He supplied it to other churches that shared the idea of using non-intoxicating liquor for the sacrament of the eucharist or communion.
The temperance movement continued to rise, and more people wanted to stop using fermented wine for communion. In 1876, the WCTU (the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union) members took a stand against taking sacrament with wine.
Ohio Wisky bar singing hymns in front of barrooms llus. in: Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper, 1874 Feb. 21, p. 392.
Following the efforts and stance of the WCTU and Welch’s breakthrough (Welch’s grape juice), the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church changed its discipline book. Charles Welch, one of the children of Thomas Bramwell Welch, gave an account of his father’s work in his will.
He wrote that Welch’s grape juice was born out of service to God. It was intended to serve God by providing His church with what he described as the “fruit of the vine” rather than “cup of the devil.”
What started with the desire to provide a nonalcoholic choice for communion has grown into a giant company that produces/manufactures various products, including jams and jellies, organic grape juice, fruit snacks, concentrates, and dried fruits.
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On this day in wine history
December 31, 1825 — Thomas Bramwell Welch was born in Glastonbury. Welch moved to the United States with his father in 1834. He was a dentist and a Methodist preacher/minister in Vineland.
He created an alternative to wine that could be used for church communion instead of intoxicating liquor. He successfully found a way to prevent grape juice from fermenting and sold the product, which he named “Dr. Welch’s unfermented wine,” to churches as a substitute for the usual alcoholic wine.
June 1, 1914 —General order 99 was passed and prohibited the consumption of alcohol on navy vessels. From that moment on, sailors could only drink juice or coffee. They cleverly named their cup of coffee “a cup of Joe” after Josephus Daniels, the navy’s secretary.
This order made Welch’s grape juice gain popularity among sailors. Grape juice gained more popularity after the 18th amendment in 1919 when alcohol was banned across the United States.