Right before Easter, I shared my own personal experience with taking the Lord’s Supper with celiac disease. I also included an encouragement to others in my position, reminding them that our salvation does not rely on our ability to eat a piece of bread. I received a great response to this post, along with some questions and suggestions. I decided it might be helpful to write a follow-up post to address what was directly said to me, and what also may be on the minds of some readers.
Couldn’t you just bring your own supplies and participate in that way?
Absolutely. This is 100% an option for anyone who cannot partake of what the church provides. I personally think this option requires some open lines of communication with your pastor/elders. One reason is that a lot of churches do not hold communion every Sunday. Some seem to do it at random times, or just one seemingly random Sunday a month. One church I mentioned held communion pretty regularly – one Sunday a month – but it was always a toss-up between if it would be held during the morning or evening service.
For the sake of honesty, I never truly considered providing my own bread for communion until my husband and I began attending a church that did it every Sunday. This was partly due to the fact that I could not figure out when the Lord’s Table would be taken and also partly due to my own awkwardness. I wasn’t sure about the requirements for the bread to be taken (was leaven okay?), and I was partly too timid and partly too busy to take the time to speak with my pastor about this. I honestly believe this was an error on my part. I know that if I had approached the pastor, explained my situation, and asked for the communion schedule, he would have happily provided it. He also would have answered my questions about the nature of the bread I should bring.
So in this instance, learn from my mistakes. If you would like to bring your own bread, talk to your pastor! If you don’t have communion every week, ask him when he plans to hold it, so that you can be prepared. If you know the communion schedule or it takes place weekly, it may be helpful to communicate with him anyway. He may have a solution you hadn’t thought of or your situation may have not been something he has considered previously.
With my current church, this is something I have considered. Unfortunately, it is a little more complicated. Because my church does “intinction” (dipping the bread in the cup), I would have to provide my own bread and cup of juice. The idea of juggling all of that while trying to let other people past my seat, no matter where I’m sitting, is a little stressful. But, it’s not out of the running as an option for myself personally. I do plan to seek an opportunity to discuss this with my pastor, especially since my husband and I plan on joining this particular church.
What about asking your church to provide a gluten free option?
This option comes with some extra footwork. When I was polling my Twitter followers to gauge interest in this topic, someone responded to tell me that their church provided a gluten free option. I was excited to read this, until I read the whole tweet. The church provided gluten free bread, but it was cross-contaminated with the regular bread, and thus not safe for the people who truly needed it. It was very disheartening to read this.
As someone who has a true medical need to be gluten free, I am wrought with frustration with those who go gluten free because it’s trendy or labeled “healthy.” On one hand, the “trend” has created more awareness of a prominent allergy. But on the other hand, it has created laziness among those who handle food, either professionally or casually. My trepidation in making a request that my church provide gluten free options for those who need it (because I know I’m not the only one) is that the option would still not be safe, due to a poor handling of the provided gluten free option.
However, this is not an excuse for failing to bring it to my pastor (or anyone who is an elder in the church). I believe the best course of action here would be to first speak with others in the church who you know are also in your situation. Then, you can approach him together to demonstrate the need in the church. However, you also need to be prepared to be the one to handle the provision of the gluten free option. I say this not in a way that expects the pastor to not want to deal with it, but rather with the knowledge that pastors are very busy people. And while there is likely a plan in place for preparing the communion bread and cup, you are asking for whoever does that to add yet another task to their day. Thus, it is very important to not only be willing to present a problem, but also be willing to be part of the solution.
An Encouragement to Pastors, Elders, and Church Administrators
It’s really important to me that I emphasize that me sharing my story and bringing up this issue is in no way a bashing of any church that does not provide a gluten free option, especially churches of which I have been a member or regular attender. Leading and being on staff at a church is hard. There is a lot to think about, a lot to do, and the dietary needs of every person in a congregation is probably the last thing on a pastor’s mind. If you are a pastor (especially if you have been my pastor), please do not be discouraged about needing to deal with “one more thing.”
Pastors and church leaders, if you have read my original post, my Twitter thread regarding my recent Good Friday experience, and/or are reading this post, you do however have to admit that you can no longer say “I didn’t know.” I do not see myself in a position to tell you exactly how you should move forward. Every congregation is different. You may not have anyone in your congregation who is prevented from taking communion because of food allergies. If this is the case, all glory be to God! But, if you lead a larger congregation, chances are high that you have multiple members that are unable to take the Lord’s Table each week because of their food allergies. So, I would simply encourage to take this issue into consideration and consider whether adding a safe gluten free option would be a wise move for your church and its needs.
Ultimately, there is a bigger lesson behind all of this than just making people aware of a situation or encouraging my fellow “allergy people.” What being in my situation has taught me the most is that we do not always know what other people are dealing with. While my food allergies are, in the grand scheme of things, a small problem, the fact that they prevent me from fully partaking of the Lord’s Table speaks to a bigger issue. Local churches are filled with people whose lives are not “conventional.” Their health may be fragile, they may be unable to leave their homes, their food allergies may be a result of a serious illness, they may be dealing with significant relational trauma (whether it be in their marriage, family, friendships, or work relationships), and the list goes on.
My point is, it is important to remember that not everyone comes to church in a great place emotionally, physically, mentally, and/or spiritually. The people who need the most encouragement are not always going to volunteer their need for encouragement and care. We must be sensitive to the needs of others, and willing to have conversations that go deeper than the typical Sunday morning small talk. We have an extraordinary blessing to be able to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ every Sunday to worship our God together. Community among Christians is vitally important, and being sensitive to one another’s needs is a vital aspect of community. We must be always building up and encouraging one another. We must be willing to walk through the hard things of life alongside those who are in the valleys of life. In Christ, we are one, and we are family.