Communion Tokens

Contributed by Presbyterian Historical Society

It was John Calvin in the late 16th century who saw the usefulness of using lead tokens as proof that people had been properly instructed prior to coming to the Lord's Table.

The French Reformed Church was the first to put Calvin's suggestion into practice and it later spread to Scotland probably by John Knox and others who had observed the practice on their visits to the Continent. As well as indicating the communicants' right to partake in the Lord's Supper it is likely that the tokens also served to safeguard the Reformed churches from spies at a time when church meetings were illegal. The Scots who came in large numbers to Ireland in the 17th century brought with them not only their own ministers but the use of tokens as a means of regulating communion.

The earliest tokens were made of lead but others were of tin, brass or white metal usually by a local blacksmith or silversmith. The tokens generally either bear the initials of the church or of the minister or some other unique feature. Good examples of communion tokens from Presbyterian churches in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Australia have survived.

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