In my retired life, I wander from church to church on Sunday mornings. When I was serving a church, I celebrated Holy Communion weekly, knowing I needed the sacrament for the sake of my soul. The liturgy anchored my week. But now, as one who must eat gluten-free, I find this practice highly problematic.
At a recent church visit, I breathed with relief after reading the bulletin and seeing that gluten-free wafers were available for communion. Without them, I would have to deny myself the grace of receiving the fullness of the sacrament.
Upon coming forward, I made my request for a gluten-free bread. The server nodded graciously, and went to the table to get some. And I took a deep sigh when I saw that she picked it up with the same hand she had been using to tear bread for the other communicants.
I received, hoping I would not get sick from the contamination.
Fortunately, the effect was minor, but thought it might be helpful to set out how to prepare the table for the growing number of gluten-frees. Although many are going gluten-free as part of a health-diet-bandwagon, and a little bit is no big deal, greater awareness of the prevalence of celiac disease means that there are those who must not ingest it in any way
With Easter nearly here, many will be attending services who do not do so regularly. Providing the sacrament for them shows gracious hospitality. The gesture will not go unnoticed.
So, here are Seven Principles to a Safe Gluten Free Table!
1. Contamination is the number one concern.
2. The bread or cracker you use for gluten-free communion needs to be certified as being produced in a contamination free bakery. If you do use a commercially baked cracker, please note that these should be broken into smaller pieces before offering them, particularly if everyone else is being given a piece of bread. The crackers are too large, very dry, and nearly impossible to chew and swallow gracefully. Remember, the goal is hospitality, not embarrassment!
3. It is possible to make your own bread or crackers. Most health food stores have some high quality gluten-free mixes. However, whoever does the baking needs to make sure no contaminated kitchen implements are used in the preparation. Also, gluten-free products tend to crumble easily, making it harder to tear off a piece. Gluten is the glue that gives bread its chewy texture. Without it, the bread can look good and occasionally even taste OK, but will not have the same properties as regular bread.
4. If communion is taken by intinction, you MUST have a separate cup for the gluten-free intinction. Last year our Annual Conference ended with a Service of Holy Communion. I was one of the last to receive and noted with dismay that I was offered the same cup as everyone else. Let us just say that nearly a week of real misery afterward convinced me never to do that again.
5. If at all possible, have a dedicated server for the gluten-free station. It solves a multitude of problems. If not possible, put the gluten-free wafers/bread on a separate plate and extend the plate to the communicants so they can take their own. This solution is far less preferable. The awareness of the shared loaf, offered by one to another with the personal touch, is an important part of the sacrament. So this is the second best option, but it beats the alternative.
6. If you use only commercially produced wafers both for the normals and for the gluten-frees, the chances of contamination lesson. Recently I was in England, where there is a much higher awareness of the needs of the gluten-free than in the US. When attending worship, I noted something really helpful: the regular communion wafers are the standard round ones; the gluten-frees are square. The same hands could touch both with far less likelihood of contamination because those wafers (which I believe can survive a nuclear blast unchanged) don’t shed crumbs.
7. Once more: contamination is the number one concern. For me, ingesting a product with gluten in it is the same a ingesting something with poison in it. Many others suffer similarly.
I hope these tips will help. If you have other ideas, please put them in the “comments” suggestion so everyone can benefit from them.