Churches to Offer Gluten-Free Communion Bread

Only three percent of the 170 worshipers at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church need special bread for Holy Communion.

But the Rev. Adam J. Shoemaker, who serves as rector, said it’s not about the numbers.

“It’s an easy enough gesture to do to extend a hand of welcome,” Shoemaker said.

St. Stephen’s is one of several local churches that offer gluten-free bread during the Holy Eucharist to accommodate parishioners with celiac disease and other sensitivities. Grace Church Cathedral and First Scots Presbyterian Church in Charleston do the same.

The Holy Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion, is a Christian rite which honors the biblical story of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his crucifixion. In the event, Jesus referred to the wheat bread as his body and wine as his blood and tells his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.”

Historically, many churches have kept with tradition and served wine and wheat-only bread, which contains gluten, a protein found commonly in wheat.

But today, some churches offer bread without gluten.

At St. Stephen’s, roughly 170 members participate in Communion with around five who need gluten-free wafers. Those pieces of bread are placed on a separate plate from the wheat bread to avoid cross contamination.

Shoemaker, who has served St. Stephen’s for more than year, said he’s worked for other churches that also serve gluten-free Communion bread.

He compares it to Jesus’ parable about a woman who swept her house to find a lost coin, or the one about the shepherd who left his flock of 99 sheep to find the one that strayed.

He says serving gluten-free bread is a way to serve all people.

“It compels us to consider every individual. Some may hear the numbers and say ’Gosh, it’s a small amount of people, why bother doing it,” Shoemaker said. “I think it’s worth the small effort.”

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Source: Post and Courier