A colleague asked, via social media the other day, what United Methodists’ experience was using King’s Hawaiian Bread for Holy Communion.
You may have no experience with this phenomenon. FUMC does not currently use King’s Hawaiian for Holy Communion. Instead, we have homemade offerings by Cindi Carnahan and Karoline Berg, which are far superior to the sponge that is King’s. The round loaf in a tin pie plate is, however, incredibly common in United Methodist churches. In response to my colleague’s query, I wondered exactly why it was that King’s was so common. Is it for a reason similar to the development of Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine and its widespread adoption among Methodists?
I decided to dig a little into the thread to which my colleague had attached the question, and I discovered that someone else had already done the homework.
Never underestimate the power of distraction for doctoral students. The Reverend Lane Davis, an elder in the Tennessee Conference, took some time away from his studies at Southern Methodist University to explore the connection between King’s Hawaiian Bread and The United Methodist Church. I hope you find it as entertaining as I.
A brief and recent history of Kings Hawaiian Bread and communion in the United Methodist Church (a thread of very limited interest).
Kings Hawaiian Bread is a baker/bread manufacturer from Hawaii. If you’ve not had their bread, go get some. King’s makes a delicious, dense, sweet bread that goes perfect with many meals. King’s also happens to be a very popular choice for communion bread in the United Methodist Church and other denominations. It seems that, while other churches certainly use King’s, the UMC is by far its largest ecclesial customer. And from some very limited research (emails with old friends and some research into bread distribution patterns in the 1990s) I’ve come up with a theory.
United Methodists use King’s because of a bread distribution agreement from the 1990s. King’s began in the 50s and by 1977 opened their first mainland factory in Torrance, CA. It’s likely that the Western Jurisdictions of the UMC were the first to use King’s for communion. The turning point for communion bread came with King’s nationwide expansion in the 1990s. As the company grew, they signed baking contracts with national distributors. One of those happened to be a baker that distributed to a regional grocery chain called Ingles Markets.
Here’s why that’s significant: The Jurisdictional headquarters for the UMC is in a place called Lake Junaluska, NC. Lake J is just over the mountain from a small town called Waynesville. In Waynesville, in the 1990s, there were 3 grocery store options: Lion King, Food World, and Ingles. At the time, Ingles was the Cadillac of those three. They even had a video rental section inside their stores. Some Ingles’s still do.
And so, in the 1990s, many of those planning worship for regional events in the UMC were buying communion bread at the Ingles in Waynesville. And, you’re probably thinking…so what…
During its peak in the late 1990s, Lake Junaluska was hosting over 300,000 Methodists per year from all over the world at one of its programs. And all of these Methodists were almost always having King’s Hawaiian, because that’s what we went and bought at Ingles. If you’ve had King’s Hawaiian for communion you get where I’m coming from. Think about 300,000 Methodists consuming the body and blood of Christ and going…”Hmm, that’s delicious…we should do that at my church.” That was what was happening at Lake J in the ’90s. If you remember suddenly having King’s Hawaiian for communion beginning somewhere in the early 2000’s or later, your church is likely a result of this sacramental downstream corporate distribution pattern.
There are other obvious benefits to King’s for communion of course 1) it doesn’t break up quite as much so you get less “floaties” in the intinction cup. Also, the loaf is dense and even looks like a piece of flesh, so when you tear it in half it has a really satisfying look and sound. My current evidence is limited, but I’m reasonably comfortable arguing that your Kings communion tradition probably has something to do with Waynesville, NC circa 1998.