By Charlie Feldman
Communion, or the sharing of the Lord’s Supper, is a tradition going back to the earliest churches. The minister or priest blesses the bread and the cup and those who partake of them are to first consider the body and blood of Christ that were sacrificed for them. A moment never to be taken lightly but with the utmost honor and gravity.
Before the wafers and wine are transformed spiritually through a process called transubstantiation – even before the church service begins – they are prepared by those in charge of setting up the communion. The bread often comes in boxes available in Christian bookstores and supply shops from companies that specialize in making communion wafers or “loaves.”
One of the largest wafer companies in the United States was, until recently, based in downtown Troy.
Christian Wolf, Inc. was founded in 1873. Over the years its headquarters has been in Germany, then in places like Indiana and St. Louis.
“The area where it was at was getting to be kind of a rough neighborhood,” explained Deanne Norrenberns, who currently owns and runs the company with her husband Tim. “So they decided to move it to Troy.”
That was in 1974. A long-time employee, the late James Deering, had bought the company and moved it from the Gateway City to Troy’s Main Street on the site where City Hall stands today. After the building was destroyed in a “seven-alarm” fire in 1992 only hours after the new head of Troy’s volunteer fire department was sworn in, the business operated out of the old Deimling Meat Market site at the corner of East Market and Hickory Street for three years before moving to the Adams’ Store location. There it stayed until its new owners Tim and Deanne Norrenberns moved it closer to their home in 2013. They bought the business in 2000.
“I was in the building industry,” said Tim, “and I became friends with a local builder in Troy. We were building a spec house together. He came to me and said he had bought a building in downtown Troy – I think it was called the Adams’ Building. He said, ‘You’ve got to come and take a look at this old building with me.’
“So in this building was this Christian Wolf Company,” he continued. “And I met with Jim Deering and some of the employees. And Jim and I kind of hit it off and his health was kind of failing at that time. And he was looking for somebody to buy the company and keep it in Troy for as long as his employees were going to be there with him for some of them had already been there for thirtysome years already. So Deanne and I decided that we were looking for another venture to do and we bought the company.”
Thirteen years later, Christian Wolf relocated to a basement in Bartelso in Clinton County, where it continues today. There are several ovens for baking the unleavened bread, which then goes to workstations, each equipped with three waffle iron-type presses for embossing religious symbols. The wafers are then packed and shipped to Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian and churches of other denominations. Currently, the Norrenberns do it all themselves. “We work a lot of long hours,” Deanne said.
COVID-19 quarantines nearly shut it all down this year. Enter the Concordia Supply Company of Rancho Cucamonga, California.
“Concordia Supply has bought our wafers for many, many years – probably 30 or 40 years they’ve been buying from Christian Wolf,” Deanne said. “When COVID hit, then churches closed and they were unable to give out communion individually. Concordia called us because they were buying a line of these [pre-filled] cups with wafers and people were complaining that the wafers tasted like cardboard. They were getting those wafers from another company.
“So Concordia Supply called us because they knew that our wafers actually tasted like bread,” she said. “They really taste good. People will actually eat them, you know, before they’re consecrated. They’ll eat them like a snack because they really tastes like bread.
“So they contacted us and asked us if we can make a wafer for these cups,” she added.
The Norrenberns ship the wafers to a company in Dallas that makes the cups, then seals the wafers on top. They also supply a company in Indiana that makes a similar product with cups that look like chalices with the wafer sealed on the bottom. The prepackaging is not only convenient but safe as well.
“There’s no contamination from people handling the communion wafer and the juice now,” Deanne said.
She said that she has estimates from Concordia Supply Company of the need for 750,000 of these cups per month for the next six months. “That’s what they’re projecting,” she said. “Even though the vaccines are coming out and even though people are going back to church more frequently, after the pandemic they will still have a huge need for these individual cups because people will be a little more wary of going back to people handling the communion.”
“That product has been around for quite some time,” added Tim. “It’s just come to the forefront because of COVID.”
Christian Wolf manufactures eight kinds of communion wafers including whole wheat and has added outsourced gluten-free wafers and disposable plastic communion cups to make it convenient for those churches that wanted a one-stop shop for communion supplies, according to Deanne.
“We have churches from all fifty states that order from us,” she said, “into Canada. A church called this morning [Thursday, December 17] from Canada.”
For more information about Christian Wolf, Inc. visit the website. The phone number for the company is 618-667-9522.