“Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with their neighbor unless . . . you can’t eat regular bread and don’t participate in the sexual life of regular people and then the invitation is rescinded.”
I wrote this after yet one more time, I was excluded from the Sacrament. It was Annual Conference, Monday morning. As a United Methodist Clergy, Annual Conference is my church. Ultimately, this is the place where I worship with those who are deeply connected to me.
I arrived very early that morning, wanting to get settled, write a few minutes, and then attend the early morning Worship and Holy Communion.
So I did. And a few minutes into the service, I realized that there was only one chalice on the communion table. That meant that even if gluten-free bread were provided, I would probably not be able to participate. As it turns out, apparently a gluten-free bread was provided, but the Celebrant chose to disregard it. It was not mentioned at the invitation. Even with just one chalice, he could have made it work for he could have called forward the gluten-free first, so we could participate with the common cup before it was contaminated. But the Celebrant chose to ignore the option completely, excluding me and any others in my situation from participation in the sacrament.
One more time, I was left out because in order for me to receive the Sacrament, I have to practice “safe communion.” Otherwise, I will be very sick for a minimum of 48 hours. It will be 48 lost hours, two full days of wondering if I have been poisoned.
Essentially, I’m a lot of trouble for those who must set up the communion table and for those who are appointed to serve as Celebrants.
Since my retirement, I have been facing multiple obstacles in observing a spiritual discipline that is extremely important to my soul life. Two churches, hearing ahead of time that I was visiting, did go to great lengths to offer sweet hospitality to me so I could be a full participant. Another offered a gluten-free option, but the servers picked up the gluten-free wafer with the same hand they had been using to tear the regular bread. I choose not to describe here the misery that followed.
Recently, I was in conversation with a good friend who attends worship at a nearby Episcopal church. I wondered if it might be an option to attend their weekly early Sunday morning Eucharist. She checked with someone there about whether a gluten-free option was available, and forwarded to me this response: “Yes, we do. It’s a rice wafer. Father needs to know before the service how many he’ll need and who needs them. We have a few regulars that he knows about and accommodates, but if it’s someone new, he needs to know beforehand.”
I felt kicked in the gut by that response. Why do I think it is not necessary for the gluten-normal to make an appointment to receive the sacrament? Does the priest require them to indicate in advance that they will be there? I seriously doubt it. This is not Christian hospitality. I shall not trouble them further.
I’ve wondered if those from whom I request to provide a way for me to receive the sacrament think silently, “You are not really gluten-intolerant. You just think you are and need to repent. After all, Jesus said of BREAD, not some rice cracker, ‘This is my body.’ You are sinning by not seeing this truth and turning away from what is clearly God’s intended plan for humanity.”
Let’s face it: it’s trendy to be gluten-free. It’s the “in thing” right now. Popular alternative health sites tout gluten-free as a panacea for nearly all the ills of modern humanity. And many do feel better when reducing that item from their diets.
For me, reducing is not an option. Total elimination has become necessary.
I’ve also heard many people say, “Oh yes, I tried to cut down on the bread I eat, but it really didn’t seem to work for me, so I returned to normal eating.”
This is similar to someone saying, “Oh yes, I tried homosexual lifestyle, it didn’t work for me. I have returned to normal sexuality.”I say this because I have no hard evidence of a scientifically-verified disease besides my bodily reactions when I do accidentally ingest any gluten-containing foods. With careful avoidance, I am extraordinarily healthy. I puzzle my physicians. According to their world, someone my age should be taking something that raises this or lowers that or relieves something else. Instead, I radically changed my diet, and am vibrant, energetic, alert and able to do what I want.
Unless, of course, I eat something containing gluten.
But I have no valid test that shows it. No “doctor’s orders” to fall back on. No hard, empirical evidence, scientifically corroborated, that this is indeed a problem. In fact, I’ve not even bothered with the expensive, often wrong, more often inconclusive laboratory tests. I simply know myself and know myself well.
But I’m a lot of trouble, I’m not normal, and, as I was reminded at Annual Conference, I am not welcome at the Table much of the time. And I wonder if, in my own small way, my experience mirrors the world of those who are sexually wired differently from what is considered “normal.” Because the church so often says to them, “If you would just repent, you could leave that sin behind.”
Neither I nor they have a certificate of authenticity that says, “Yes, she/is really is made this way.” We don’t have scientific “proof” that some people are born gay or lesbian (although there is good proof that a small percentage are born intersexed–and no one is dealing with that very well).
At this point, I ask this question of those clergy who, for reasons that I believe are right for them no matter how much I disagree, have declared that homosexuality is a sin: “Will you serve the sacrament to a declared homosexual?
If so, why? How can you? Read again the historic invitation: “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who who love him, earnestly repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.” If so-called “practicing homosexuals,” such as a partnered gay/lesbian couple, approach the table, and that partnership that will not be dissolved or renounced before the reception of the Sacrament, how can you in good conscience serve them?”
They have not repented of their sin, and you are not at peace with them, nor they with you.
The parallel: If my gluten-free state is just all in my mind, especially since it has not been scientifically verified, should I not properly be denied the Sacrament? If homosexuality is indeed a choice, since we have yet to actually identify a “homosexual” genetic source or brain pattern, should not practicing homosexuals be denied the Sacrament?
Essentially, those in that situation are told, “Repent of who you ARE, and we’ll open the doors and all will be well with God and community,” rather than “repent of what you have done so you may receive the fullness of gracious intimacy with God and with your community.”
Now, clearly there’s a material difference between the two situations.
For me, it is a sorrow to be denied the sacrament so routinely but there is otherwise no systematic rejection of my state nor, as least as far as I know, am I declared an unrepentant sinner for my dietary decision. For the differently-sexually-wired, it is routine to be denied acceptance as those who have been fully redeemed by the grace of God for there is always a tinge of “unrepentant sinner” marked upon them.
However, for me it often becomes a moral decision to deny myself the sacrament. Whether it is a moral decision for the Celebrant at the Service of Holy Communion to deny me the sacrament is another story.
I now state publicly that it is a moral and ecclesiastical imperative for any clergy who affirms that homosexual practice is a sin to deny the Sacrament to those in the GLBTQ community who refuse to repent.
It’s time to take our sacramental responsibility as ordained clergy seriously. Until the UMC changes its position on the language in the Book of Discipline which declares the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching, then not one single “unrepentant” and “practicing” homosexual should be received at the Table.
At the very least, we would be consistent. Not particularly Christian, not particularly United Methodist. But at least we’d less hypocritical.