The church my husband and I attend offers a gluten free option during communion; it was a major selling point when we were searching for a spiritual home. Sometimes the gluten free option was Van’s Everything Crackers and sometimes we received rice circles seemingly sized for dolls with self-titled story books.
The church is part of the United Church of Christ, a progressive Christian faith whose “overarching creed is love.”
This post, however, is not about church doctrine or what and why we believe. If you want to know more about the United Church of Christ, check out www.ucc.org.
This post is about the challenges of participating in any community of faith when celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or food allergies separate you from everyone else.
This is about watching the minister tear in half the loaf of bread while proclaiming, “This is my body!” and watching, not with sacred awe, but with horror as bread bits bounce across the table. Maybe they didn’t bounce into the bowl brimming with gfree crackers, I think, only to see glutinous globs on said crackers when the minister proffers the dish moments later.
This is about graciously changing crumb culture: making clergy cognizant of how crumbs clinging to their fingers create crumby communion crackers, contaminate once celiac-safe crackers.
This is about how I only nibbled a corner of the cracker before covering the rest with a tissue, hoping no one would see me partially partake, and getting sick anyway.
This is about finding the courage to chat with the clergy about cross-contact, about wanting to show them simple steps for celiac-safe communion, and how, strangely shame-laden, I sweet-talked my spouse into speaking in my stead…something I regret.
This is about invitations to potluck gatherings, supper clubs, and even the coffee and tea social hour after service and being unable to participate because participating might be sickening, really sickening. The kind of sickening that comes from a coffee cup proffered by a cheery congregant whose same hands composed the cookie plate so now my coffee cup has cookie crumbs clinging to where I must clasp it. Conundrum. Can the crumbs be cleansed from my cup or my clasp before I cover my mouth to cough? If not, curses! Those crumbs now course through me. I’m contaminated…glutened.
This is about God calling the clergy to call my husband and me to serve on the Board of Deacons. After we accepted our respective calls, I emailed our minister, asking if I could help the church become more inclusive for those of us on the fringes due to serious medical conditions related to food.
This is about our senior minister then celebrating the ordination of his blessed friend, who broke gfree bread for churchwide communion because he, too, has celiac. The newly ordained to his friend explained he cannot engage with glutinous grain: no loaf, wafer, or cracker. God loves timing a revelation.
This is about our leader rethinking what it means to be inclusive and welcoming after seeing his friend celebrate communion celiac-safely. I only planned to propose plastic to cover the gfree communion crackers to prevent crumby cross-contact. Our minister—by God—went much further. When he announced the 8:30 service would serve gluten free bread for communion, not just for the gluten sensitive but for everyone, my heart heated and my eyes misted.
This is about tears tumbling freely when he tore a piece from the same gfree loaf feeding everyone else and placed it into my hand. In that moment, I felt holy. I felt wholly a part and not apart. After years of feeling separate and not equal, it was Velveteen Rabbit redemption: I suddenly was real, a one-of-Us and not a Them.
This is about the countless times I’ve “participated” in gatherings by sitting at the end of the table, huddled over my brought-from-home container of gfree food while everyone else orders from the menu, or passes around plate after plate of potluck, laughing and sharing the same feast while remarking about how sad it must be to be me, deprived of the communal bounty.
This is about someone seeing, beyond me, that separate is not equal, that a sliver of starch beside sumptuous sourdough disserves the spirit of the Last Supper set by the One whose generosity surpasses any we mortals can muster.