INDIANAPOLIS – Don Findlay, chair of the Indiana Conference Commission on Archives and History, announced Oct. 3 during a regular meeting of the commission that commission-member Jennifer L. Woodruff-Tait, Ph.D., of Huntington, Ind., adjunct professor of Church History at Huntington University, Asbury Theological Seminary, Southwestern College and United Theological Seminary, was granted earlier this year the Saddlebag Award given by the Historical Society of The United Methodist Church.

The Poisoned Chalice

This honor designates the book which the selection committee deems the best work in Methodist history, polity, theology or biography published during a given calendar year. From a field of seven very distinguished entries for 2011, the committee chose Woodruff-Tait’s book, The Poisoned Chalice: Eucharistic Grape Juice and Common-Sense Realism in Victorian Methodism, as the winner. Her articles and essays have appeared in Christianity Today, Christian History and Biography, and American Denominational History.

Findlay said, “This is truly an honor for Jennifer both professionally and personally and we are pleased for her and proud that she has shared her talents, knowledge and interest as an active and contributiing member of our Commission. She also represents the Indiana Conference UMC as a member of the Joint Archives Committee of Indiana Methodism and DePauw University.”

The Poisoned Chalice examines the introduction of grape juice into the celebration of Holy Communion in the late 19th century Methodist Episcopal Church and reveals how a 1,800-year-old practice of using fermented communion wine became theologically incomprehensible in a mere forty years.

Through study of denominational publications, influential exegetical works, popular fiction and songs, and didactic moral literature, Woodruff Tait charts the development of opposing symbolic associations for wine and grape juice. She argues that 19th century Methodists, steeped in Baconian models of science and operating from epistemological presuppositions dictated by common-sense realism, placed a premium on the ability to perceive reality accurately in order to act morally.

Methodist leaders therefore rejected any action or substance that dulled or confused the senses in addition to alcohol, this included “bad” books, the theatre, stimulants, etc., which were all seen as unleashing unchecked, ungovernable thoughts and passions incompatible with true religion.

According to Woodruff-Tait’s research, grape juice was considered holy, because it did not cloud the mind and new techniques developed by Methodist laymen Thomas and Charles Welch, permitted the safe bottling and shipment of the unfermented juice.

Although Methodists were not the only religious group to oppose communion wine, the experience of this broadly based denomination illuminates similar beliefs and actions by other groups.

The book is available from