Several years ago I visited a church and behind the pulpit I found a small box of gluten-free, corn-free, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, yeast-free communion wafers. I’m honestly not sure what was actually in the wafers, but I remember joking with some friends, “At least they’re not Jesus-free!” Little did I realize how that joke would come back to haunt me.
Last fall I was diagnosed with some severe food allergies. I visited a doctor who diagnosed me with an extreme wheat allergy, a corn allergy and nut allergies. Needless to say, this has drastically changed my life. I cannot eat anything containing wheat without becoming very ill for weeks. My diet has done a complete 180, and there are many foods that I miss: donuts, pizza, cream puffs, cake, bread, etc. When I was first diagnosed I realized that there would be many things off limits, but there was one thing that I didn’t expect that has caught me off guard. I am no longer able to participate in communion.
I am in the process of planting a church called The Community (Covington District). We are not yet at the stage where we meet on a weekly basis, so I have visited many churches in the past few months. While they are all very unique, one thing remains the same: I am unable to fully engage in the sacrament of Holy Communion, as eating a small piece of bread would set back my allergies for weeks. Over and over again I have watched as a pastor consecrates the elements and invites the congregation forward, knowing full well that I will remain in my seat. This has been one of the most isolating and lonely experiences of my life. I deeply desire to feast at the table of Christ, yet I know that I am very limited in my ability to participate. I realize that this is not done intentionally, but it has become a very alienating experience. Thus, I am writing this to encourage pastors and churches to make Christ’s table open to all who wish to participate.
Currently, over 12 million Americans suffer with a food allergy, and the number is growing quickly. As we continue to invite visitors and friends to experience Christ’s presence at the table, we must make sure that they can fully participate when they arrive. Even if no one in your church currently has a food allergy, I would encourage you to have allergen free wafers on hand as an act of faith…believe that God will send people to your congregation who are seeking to engage the life of the church. Consider it an act of radical hospitality to set a small plate of wafers on the altar every Sunday next to the bread, believing that we truly practice an open table. Make sure that people know that they have options, so that no one comes to the table fearing illness if they eat the bread. Cokesbury sells these wafers online for less than $10 a box, and while they aren’t as good as a homemade loaf of bread, they permit allergy sensitive folks to experience Christ’s presence in tactile ways. While they are free of many things, thankfully they aren’t Jesus-free.