Gluten free and inclusive communion / eucharist / Lord’s Supper

Earlier I hinted at the beginnings of a research project, and this past January I gave thanks for experiencing, for the first time, inclusive communion that included me. During the last few weeks of the semester I became very excited about my Master’s research project — in short, “inclusive communion.” I will be researching and writing about inclusive communion both in regards to the elements being inclusive to all, including those with a variety of allergies or health issues (with my main focus at this point being gluten free bread and alcohol-free wine, but I invite readers to share about other issues as well), as well as being inclusive in terms of those invited to commune at the table.

To those that know me or have read much of what I publish via social media it may seem obvious that this is a very personal issue for me since I have been restricted to a gluten-free diet for about 4 years now. What some may not know is that inclusive in the sense of who comes to the table is also a very personal issue for me. I grew up in a church that practices “close communion.” I no longer share the belief that the practice of “close communion” is what Christ intended communion to be (in spite of taking proof text quotes from scripture). However, I have been uncomfortable talking about it openly outside of my seminary community. After all I many friends and family members that still practice close communion (or other beliefs I disagree with). It’s time that I learn to talk about these differences. It’s time I own my own beliefs. It’s also time that I dig *deeply* into the theology of the sacrament of Holy Communion.

I won’t go into many details here at this point, after all I have years of research and writing ahead of me (graduating Spring 2015). Yet, I will share brief points along the way, and I want to invite readers to comment here —

I am especially looking for stories, including specific places I can contact or visit, that do practice inclusive communion in some form (gluten free or in an open invitation to the table or in another way meaningful to participants). I also invite those of you that have felt excluded (intentionally or not) to share your stories. If needed I will open an additional forum to do so.

Please also share stories of how your or other congregations you are familiar with have begun to address this even if it is baby steps — how is gluten free communion handled? do you use alcohol free wine? is it easy for those with disabilities or other physical impairments to participate in communion? Any other thoughts?

Love and belief~

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7 thoughts on “Gluten free and inclusive communion / eucharist / Lord’s Supper

  1. Both at the seminary I attend and at the church I am doing my internship, there are gluten-free wafers available for anyone who requests them. Not the most ideal solution, since they don’t taste very good (and I joke that I’m not convinced that the seminary wafers aren’t just compressed sand), so the seminary was actually looking into an arrangement with a local gluten-free bakery to provide gluten-free “real” bread for communion every week, a solution I would love to see implemented. And grape-juice is offered right alongside wine.

    The last is important for me because alcoholism runs in my family and I made a decision long ago not to even flirt with that path. I drink wine at communion when nothing else is offered, but any time there is a non-alcoholic substitute, I take it. It means a lot to me that I can always participate fully in communion while still being true to myself.

    • Thank you so much for your feedback. If you notice any places that do this extremely well over the next couple of years, please come back and share that. As part of the project I hope to visit a variety of congregations practicing inclusive communion as well (or variations on being inclusive may be more accurate). My home congregation uses only grape juice, but we bring our own GF wafers to the table when we commune. I never thought about how inconsistent that message was until arriving in Dubuque and even the churches near Wartburg we visited that were not familiar with GF communion wanted to be more inclusive even if it just meant we gave them the wafers when we arrived so they were at the table when the words of institution are spoken. Here on campus the elements are generally kept separate but a couple of times (when either Shawn or I were assisting) we used GF bread for everyone, and we had really positive feedback when we did that so we are looking at doing that either always or at least more often next year (Shawn will be Sacristan next year so that helps with coordination efforst on this). I think this is an important project, and am excited about it on multiple levels. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  2. If you haven’t been to Lord of Life in Dubuque (Asbury) that would be a good one to visit. Now that I’m thinking about it I am not 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure they have a small dish with gluten-free wafers for those who ask. The communion assistants break unleaven bread to distribute so I don’t know if they have all been insturcted not to touch the wafers or not. Wine is either in individual cups or in a common cup, so the individual cups would not be contaminated. There are also individual cups of grape juice. Those who cannot come forward are communed by the pastor visiting them in the pews after everyone else has communed. What we have appreciated most about communion at Lord of Life is that everyone, regardless of age, is welcome to commune. After we checked the recipe for the bread we started allowing Sam to take bread which is meaninful for him and us…I know that is a mixed bag as far as opinion to commune a kid that young. We always tell him that the bread reminds us that God loves us very much. A few Sundays ago he told me that if you are sad you can have some church bread and it makes you happy again. Not perfect theology, but he gets that it is important. We don’t let him commune other places because we don’t know if there is milk in the bread or not.

    • This is a great way to avoid doing more real writing at the moment ;-)

      I had to smile at your mentioning Lord of Life because we visited there when we first moved here and ended up having a very lengthy email conversation with them about GF communion (I don’t think previously they were actively aware and had that option), and then I felt a little guilty when we took our “regular attendance” elsewhere while in Dubuque. It would be interesting to go back now and see how it is handled. And I hope it has benefitted others.

      I do worry about possibly running into other allergies with various bread recipes as well so we are looking for something basic and yet um, tasty enough to not get complaints from others :-) to use in the future that is GFCF.

      So glad you can take Sam here. I love having kids at communion! I don’t get into the theology in a comment but I think as a means of grace it makes sense and it has been one of the wonderful things about congregations in the Dubuque area for us. I think we underestimate what kids understand anyway, and believe they are very capable of participating in faith life.

      **thank you for the reminder about the dairy issue — I will be sure to ask when I visit congregations that are attempting to be aware and welcoming. :-)

      And I agree individual cups make this easier. Where we go when we are here uses individual cups with both grape juice (central and white so obvious) and wine but since it is all together in the one tray it doesn’t feel like one is singled out as different that way. Also with individual cups there is no worry about cross contamination with gluten bread if both are used — much more simple.

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  5. In addition to gluten, I’m very sensitive to yeast, and also sensitive to casein, soy, and sugar. If a church simply offered gluten free bread, I still wouldn’t feel comfortable unless I saw the ingredients.

    I’ve been visiting many churches in the past few months, and haven’t heard anything about gluten free communion. Sometimes everyone gets up and passes it to each other, so it’s obvious when I don’t partake. They say things like, “everyone’s welcome,” not understanding why I won’t take it. I don’t want to get into a gluten discussion when I’m a visitor. I’m in the SF Bay Area, where many restaurants offer GF menus, but not churches, apparently. I’m not celiac, so maybe the tiny bit won’t hurt me, but I hate take a chance after two years on a strict gluten-free, yeast-free diet.

    I don’t drink alchol either and only drink unsweetened juice, but a tiny bit of sugar shouldn’t hurt me. My former church offered grape juice and wine, but wasn’t obvious which was which…I guess you have to discuss it with the deacons ahead of time. None of the churches I visited made it clear whether they’re serving wine or grape juice.

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