Monday, January 17, 2011

Going to Church, Part 2

While my first "Going to Church" post could have been read as thoughts on accessibility for those with differing abilities in in any situation, this one is related to church in specific and has to do with communion or The Lord's Supper or The Eucharist, depending on your tradition.
Communion typically involves bread and either wine or grape juice and is a very important part of church life. It's one of the two sacraments routinely celebrated in the Reformed Church (the other being baptism).  Sadly, it is a part of church life that I routinely am excluded from.
I have Celiac disease (as well as multiple severe food allergies), which means I can't have any gluten, a part of wheat flour, which is used in communion bread.  Communion, even as important as it is, is not worth a quick trip to the emergency room or a day of throwing up.  Thankfully, at Central, I had a wonderful community that realized the importance of inclusive communion and made the effort to find Joy-friendly communion wafers.  One day, during my sophomore year at Central, I had communion for the first time in years.  I cried with tears of joy.
Here at Western we celebrate communion once a week, by intinction (dipping the bread in a chalice of juice or wine).  Right from the beginning I worked with the chapel planning committee to come up with a Joy-friendly bread and a plan to keep a chalice gluten free and reduce awkwardness. I get to celebrate communion once a week, with the community here and I am blessed for it.
At my home church, DRC, I have partial communion.  DRC does communion by passing plates of bread and cups of juice around.  I skip the bread and just take juice.  I get some funny looks from observant elders who don't know me well, but for the most part it goes unnoticed and I'm grateful to at least have communion in one kind.
At my internship church, First Reformed, communion is usually done the same way as it is at DRC and I handle it the same.  I talked with my teaching pastor about it at the beginning of the year and we decided that since I get communion once a week at school, I wasn't going to worry about it at church.  I was happy with that plan.
Then, this week, we did communion by intinction. When we got to that part of the service, everyone got up and went to the communion stations to partake.  I stayed in my seat along with children who had not made profession of faith yet (at First Reformed profession of faith is a requirement for communion...that's whole other can of worms). Even though no one said anything to me, I could feel the eyes on me.  It was very obvious that I, their seminary intern, was not partaking in communion.  I've only been at First Reformed for a few months, so most the congregation does not know that I have Celiac disease (it's not like there's a big sign on my head indicating it).  I think I was more bothered by the awkwardness of the situation than by the fact that I was not partaking.
I'm not the only one routinely excluded from the communion table.  The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center indicates that at least 3 million Americans have Celiac disease.  It's safe to say that a proportional number of Canadians do too.  And that is only Celiac Disease, not wheat allergies or other allergies.
People with feeding concerns, such as swallowing, are also routinely excluded.
When a person is excluded from such a crucial part of the life of the church is send a message that we are second class citizens, not fully worthy to participate in the life of the church.  It hurts.
I will be attending a worship symposium in a few weeks.  The organizers have been made aware of both my hearing loss and my food allergies.  I'm curious to see how they will respond. I know there will be communion offered during the closing service. Will I be welcomed as a full member of the church or will I be excluded because of my limitations?
Who is your church excluding?  What message is your church sending to members and visitors?

1 comment:

Angela said...

I've always wondered why churches like DRC and others aren't more inclusive about the allergy issue and communion. The church I went to in Guelph was much smaller and had someone in the church who couldn't have wheat products as well. They had gluten free bread (I think) and always announced if someone had a wheat problem they could raise their hand and they would be served. I'm thrilled that you're in a community that is realizing that and you can partake in communion!