On Sunday morning October 7, 1894, parishioners filled the Bedford Avenue Baptist Church of Brooklyn, New York, in anticipation of experiencing what The New York Times termed a “novelty in communion service” (October 8, 1894). Two newspapers had announced in late September that this church would implement individual cups. The September 28, 1894 issue of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle quoted Bedford’s pastor, J. H. Gunning, as saying that the cups would be used at the next communion service. However, attendees who arrived expecting the individual cups “were disappointed” to see the same old six silver goblets (The New York Times, October 8, 1894). After the service, Rev. Gunning called a business meeting during which he said he was anxious that his church be the first in Brooklyn to use individual communion cups. A majority voted, by standing, to purchase 200 three-inch tall silver cups lined with gold at a cost of thirty-five cents per communicant.From what I understand, individual cups then entered Lutheranism a generation or two later. Fear entered the mind and heart and with that fear distrust over the Lord's Word and then a reasonable, rational, and sensible solution to prevent disease. It is a small thing, perhaps, but it illustrates well how fear challenges what the Word of the Lord says and yesterday's unassailable truth and practice becomes today's object of concern, fear, and rejection. It should not come as any surprise that the suggestion for individual cups first came in an article written for “The Annals of Hygiene, of Philadelphia,” and not from theological perspective.
Up until the 1890s, Protestant churches throughout the world used common communion chalices. Some used just one, while others were known to use several in order to administer the fruit of the vine in a time-saving manner. However, churches using multiple chalices still had tens or perhaps hundreds of people sipping from the same cup during a communion service. In the late-nineteenth century, when outbreaks of diphtheria and tuberculosis were common, American sanitarians agitated to reform this religious practice—though no disease contraction had been linked to the use of a common communion chalice.
Reformers proposed several alternatives such as intinction, individual fistulas or siphons (straws?!), scalloped-rim chalices, and disinfectant cloths. However, among all proposals, individual cups emerged as the most popular method. Enough pastors and laymen became convinced of the sanitary need to use individual cups that the idea took hold, then rapidly spread into the twentieth century. This reform changed what was believed to be an almost 1,900-year-old method.
Lutherans knew nothing of individual cups until we saw what our Reformed cousins and the rest of American Protestantism was doing. Then we too got on the bandwagon -- perhaps out of novelty but more likely because we, too, lost confidence in the Word and promise of the Lord and succumbed to the fear of disease (what turns out by every study to have been and still be an irrational fear).