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This article was published 3/10/2014 (2100 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Manitoba-raised pro football player hopes the blessings keep flowing from packaging -- and selling -- small cups of juice and tiny wafers.
Although the main purpose of Israel Idonije's business Blessed Communion was to provide him with a future after football, the Chicago-based company also supports his charitable work.
"As a company, we give a significant amount of capital to charity," says the 33-year-old Idonije, who has spent nine seasons with the Chicago Bears and one with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League and is now a free agent.
"This year, we've focused on tithing. There's no other communion company that does that."
For the past five years, the Nigerian-born Idonije, who moved at age four to Brandon with his Christian missionary parents, has been selling pre-filled communion cups to Christian churches and organizations across the United States and Canada. He also runs a foundation for youth, operates a real estate company and writes comic books.
About the size of a single-serving cream container, the communion cups have two compartments filled by machine: Concord grape juice on the bottom and an unleavened wafer on top.
"It's a much more sanitary option and very functional way of offering communion to people," says Idonije in a recent telephone interview from Chicago.
Communion is a sacrament common to most Christian denominations, based on the biblical Last Supper, where Jesus Christ shared wine and bread with his disciples. It is also called the Eucharist, Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper.
The company fills orders as needed, and can produce up to 250,000 cups in a day. The products are available online at www.blsd.com for $25 for a package of 100, or $50 for 250. Their market is mostly large Christian churches, since the product eliminates the need for volunteers to pour juice into trays of individual cups.
"If you're a church that takes communion, we have a product that simplifies your communion needs," says Idonije, who travels to Winnipeg several times a year to visit his family.
Winnipeg's Calvary Temple switched to pre-filled cups as a way to efficiently serve the 1,200 people who worship in the downtown church over the course of a weekend.
"It's a preparation issue just because of the volume," explains discipleship pastor Rev. Cher Paulson. She says the pre-filled cups are also easy to take on pastoral visits to people in hospitals or nursing homes.
"At the end, the servers who have distributed them go through with baskets and people put their garbage in," explains Paulson of dealing with the discarded packaging.
The company recently added white grape juice to its product line. It is also about to launch wine-filled cups, and is researching gluten-free wafers.
Pre-filled communion cups may be convenient, but it is highly unlikely Roman Catholics will use them because they value sharing one loaf and one cup, says the director for liturgies for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg.
"One hundred per cent no. We will never use pre-filled cups or prepackaged things or anything that speaks of individuality," says Rev. Darren Gurr.
Idonije says he's spoken to some Catholic officials about how his product could be used, but so far, hasn't come up with a solution.
He's also pragmatic about criticism that he shouldn't profit from something as sacred as communion.
"With or without Blessed Communion, they (churches) will buy the Welch's grape juice, they buy the cups," says Idonije, who was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in May.
Despite those concerns, he continues to tackle his business one play at a time. A money-losing company when Idonije first invested, Blessed Communion is now a leading player in the industry. That success translates into more money to offer as grants to people needing funds for local projects or mission trips.
"We focus on giving back to the church body and to individuals so they can go on doing the work."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.