Monday, August 15, 2005

Communion tokens

Tonight the Tarentum Genealogical Society held its monthly meeting at the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum.

C. J. Culleiton
The program for the evening was a talk given by C. J. Culleiton on communion tokens. "Skip" Culleiton is the vice-president of the Alle-Kiski Historical Society and a member of the Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in West Tarentum.

He explained that the practice of using communion tokens originated in 1560 in the Reformed Churches in France. It is thought that Catholic Churches in France used communion tokens as early as 1613.

Earlier in the week when Holy Communion was to be administered, the people of the community were invited to attend preparatory instruction to ensure that they understood the meaning of the sacrament. Upon successfully completing the instruction, they would receive a small piece of metal that would admit them to the Table when the Church observed the Sacrament. The tokens would be collected, and then set aside until the next time when preparatory instruction would be given.

Over the passage of time there have been about 9,000 different varieties of tokens used in a number of different traditions in the Christian faith, although the majority of the churches to use them were Presbyterian Churches. Two thirds of the varieties of tokens were used by churches in Scotland. Over 400 varieties of tokens were used in Pennsylvania.

He showed slides of a large number of these tokens. Most of the time the tokens were made of lead, and less frequently of pewter, but there are other instances where other metals were used. Their shapes included rectangles, squares, disks, and hearts. Some were plain pieces of metal. Many had letters stamped on them, and some had rather elaborate designs or messages inscribed on them. Their sizes ranged from the size of a dime to the size of a silver dollar. As the practice began to diminish, some churches used printed cardboard tokens for a short time. Gradually, many churches made the decision to stop using communion tokens, and today people who discover them may not even recognize what they have found.

Mr. Culleiton showed actual tokens or pictures of tokens used by churches in Tarentum and other local communities.

Mickey Cendrowski, President of the Tarentum Genealogical Society shared some stories about successful research done recently by visitors to the Society's library. She also informed the Society of a new website,, where it is possible to research many of the immigrants to America who arrived before Ellis Island.

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