Gluten Free Worship

In my travels and reading about religion I have yet to come across someone describing the difficulties of being gluten-free in church. I recently went gluten-free for a short time, as recommended by my doctor, and I found it really difficult to avoid all the gluteny pitfalls. One of these pitfalls that really caught me by surprise was taking holy communion. Drinking either juice or wine and eating bread are a huge part of the experience for most Christians. It’s a way of connecting to Christ- often described in terms that sound mystical. If you believe the bread becomes the body of Christ, either literally or symbolically, taking that into your body is very special. Christ enters Christians during communion. Because Christ and God are one and the same, that’s a pretty big deal. Some people (I’m thinking of devout Catholic saints and such) get an ecstatic high from taking communion. Because of my background, I place emphasis on the importance of communion. Going gluten-free means avoiding anything that might be made with wheat. That means not taking communion, unless you know for sure what ingredients were used for the bread/cracker/wafer. And because I was raised Catholic, avoiding communion has other implications: 1) It could mean I’m non-Catholic or 2) It could mean I’ve committed some grave sin and haven’t yet confessed it to a priest. It’s hard to skip communion at any church without thinking of these two things. I do think alot about first impressions and assumptions. On some level it definitely bugs me that those around me may think I’m sinful or not a Christian (which in many cases also equals sinful).

Aside from the difficulties surrounding communion there is also the coffee hour problem. Churches that do a ‘coffee hour’ generally offer both coffee and snacks. The snacks are usually cakes, breads, crackers and cookies. All made with wheat and not so good if one is avoiding gluten. As a newcomer you get offered stuff as a matter of welcome. ‘Take a pamphlet.’ ‘Have a cookie.’ ‘Did you get coffee?’ ‘Julie made that cake, try some!’ The hardest part for me was blending politeness and discretion. I don’t like coffee and couldn’t eat cake. Should I say all that? It’s none of their business really. They don’t need to get all the details of my trial and error messing with my diet saga. But I like having something to do with my hands. And I don’t want to seem rude in not accepting their hospitality. So I mostly just ate around the gluten. At one place I had nothing but juice. There was a church that had strawberries- I took a bunch of those. At a third place I ate the cheese part of a cheesecake square and tossed out the crust. This would of course be less of a problem if I became a member at any of these churches. Then I could find out whether the bread used at communion is gluten-free or not.

Currently I’m off the diet and can have wheat again. But the experiment was a good one in terms of getting another facet of certain churchgoers experiences. If I stumble across any interesting stories about communion and gluten, I’ll take note and share here.

4 Replies to “Gluten Free Worship”

  1. Tracey, really enjoy your posts. As a long time active member at my own church, St Timothy Lutheran, N Greenbush, it is good to hear your feedback as a visitor so we can be more sensitive to making visitors feel welcomed. We do offer both non-alcoholic wine (although, personally, I think it’s awful and we should just go back to juice) as we have some people in recovery in our congregation, and also gluten free wafers as well as an oatmeal bread but that’s not gluten free – as we have several gluten free folks in the congregation. But, honestly, I don’t know if that’s indicated in the bulletin anywhere. I’ll alert our secretary to that. As a visitor, one thing you should know – at least this is true at St Tim’s— no one would think it amiss if a visitor asked if gluten free was available for communion. We would much rather be asked than have a visitor not take communion because of such a situation. That said, I know visitors are sometimes shy about asking and it would be a good idea to note in the bulletin what is and is not available. So, thanks again, for your insights and for taking on this pilgrimage.

    1. Hi Marilyn! It’s nice to hear from you once again. I hope to get as far as your church eventually and then we can meet in person. I’m glad you are finding my posts helpful. I think there are many considerations we can’t properly get at until we are directly involved. That’s another great reason for what I do- I get myself directly in situations so I can find out what they are like. The gluten-free experiment wasn’t even meant as a church test, but surprise(!), it makes a bigger impact than I would have thought. Much about this project is predictable, but there’s alot too that I could never have guessed I’d find.

      1. Well, I think you are very brave!!!! Walking into all those unknowns. You surely have an investigative reporters soul!

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