One last story from my week at Synod. Next week I’ll be in Guatemala gathering wit and wisdoms. I’ll be back in two weeks. I need to make my usual disclaimer before you start. I never write a story about a minor without getting their parent’s approval.
In our planning for the Synod Youth Workshop we ran into a speed bump of sorts. One of the small group leaders mentioned his daughter would be coming for the first time but he didn’t know how she was going to handle communion. At the age of 15 she has not only juvenile diabetes but also cileac disease. She’s challenged on two fronts with food choices and she is finding it easier to adjust to the diabetes than the cileac.
Cileac requires you to follow a strict diet that eliminates wheat. Period. No wheat. None. I understand that you will feel a lot better after you eliminate wheat from your diet but you can never let your guard down. You have to follow the diet for the rest of your life. To think that the most basic food in civilization, bread, could actually harm your body. Bread?! Bread is supposed to sustain us. Nurture us.
Brad told me that Raquel is very good about watching what she eats. And this is not always the case when you’re dealing with teenagers. I always end up rooming with the camp nurse every year and I’ve heard some horror stories of kids ignoring the rules. Raquel is in much better shape than most just based on her willingness to wade through the obstacles thrown in front of her.
So, we’re sitting here at this planning meeting back in March. Brad says Raquel won’t be able to take communion with her small group. What? The most important meal a Christian can take? The highlight of the week? Not participate? Unthinkable. Especially when we have options. I volunteered to explore the options.
I had a vision of those little wafers of gluten-free bread that we offer back home. It’s one thing to have them at church where a lot of adults have similar problems that require wheat-free bread but communion at Synod is a whole different scene. We have a great big communion on the last night. It’s the one time all week the kids get dressed up. They make a solemn silent walk across campus to come for the final worship service.
It would be a real let-down if we handed a plate of dry wafers to Raquel’s group. And the idea of giving Raquel and/or her group wafers while the rest had fluffy loaves of real bread didn’t seem right.
Setting her apart from the group set my teeth on edge. The idea of anyone being excluded from our most sacred meal sat me upright in my chair. The idea of offering her what amounted to poison set my resolve. I immediately set upon finding bread that the entire event could use that Raquel could safely eat.
I didn’t know what I was signing up for.
My requirements were really few: I needed to find gluten-free bread that was unsliced.
My first experiment was to see how it would taste. I bought a loaf of gluten-free bread and tasted it. Mildly Nasty. But then I dipped it into some grape juice and found that it passed the taste test. You could probably dip dog biscuits in grape juice and be able to eat them.
The next step was harder than I ever imagined. I set about calling bakeries to see if they sell the bread unsliced. Part of communion is tearing off a piece of bread. I wanted to avoid presenting a couple of anemic slices on a plate. That would look as sad as your grandmother’s left-over lunch.
It turned out none of the stores sell it unsliced. There’s not much demand for gluten-free bread. The stores keep it in the freezer case so they don’t have to order but a case here and there as demand requires. And, with so little demand, there’s not much selection. I did manage to find a brand that tastes great: Udi’s. If you’re looking to eat gluten-free, that’s my recommendation. But it comes sliced.
Raquel’s mom said she’d bake me a loaf from a mix she buys. That turned out OK but I lost heart when I realized we’d need about 28 loaves and then would have to figure out a way to keep it for ten days before we used it. And who was going to bake these 28 loaves of bread? Just thinking about that made me tired. When I found out Tulsa’s dining hall was undergoing a renovation and knew I wouldn’t be able to keep anything in their freezer I gave up on the whole baking it ourselves thing.
I started calling commercial bakeries. Surely they could just pull some loaves of bread off the assembly line and set them aside before they got sliced. I would actually be saving them work. After calling about four bakeries I ended up with a real education in commercial baking and the bottom line was I would have to buy a whole pallet of bread, which is 100 loaves.
I couldn’t let go of the idea, though. I kept thinking of the two scenarios: one would set Raquel apart from the rest of her group and give her different bread from what they had. The other option was unacceptable, also: giving her no choice but to eat food that would hurt her body. Or, even worse still, not taking communion.
So I kept thinking. And thinking. It was time to leave for Tulsa. I punted and settled on sliced ready-made bread. I located a Whole Foods Market in Tulsa. I packed and left. Once I got to Tulsa I couldn’t locate the store. Someone suggested the local grocery chain, Reasors. And (miracles do happen) it was only a couple of miles from the campus. I found the Udi’s Gluten-free bread and brought a loaf back to campus.
The next step was a delivery system. Her dad had warned us she couldn’t dip her gluten-free bread into grape juice that wheat bread had already been dipped into. By now the staff was getting a little nervous and I suspected had come to the conclusion that the kid would die right there on the spot if her magical bread wasn’t handled properly. Since this whole thing was my idea they put me in charge of serving the gluten-free communion and told me not to touch the other loaves of bread. I thought this was maybe overkill and waited for them to ask me to wear surgical gloves. But I had stirred the waters so much by that point I knew I needed to just keep my mouth shut. I was to become the dedicated gluten-free bread server.
Friday night’s communion is held on the stage of the theatre where all our worship services are held. By now every group had walked the labyrinth together and talked to God. They had bonded and become a faith community. For communion each small group comes to the stage and forms a small circle. A server takes the bread and juice and they have communion just within their small group. We do this 26 times. For speed we’ll have as many groups on the stage as we can fit, usually about five or six. Even this way it can take about thirty minutes; mostly because the groups want to linger for prayer. Anyone who questions if teenagers are into sacraments should see this service.
Groups came and went, servers came back stage to freshen the juice goblet. With almost 400 people taking communion by intinction, you always end up with a piece of bread floating in a goblet or two. Squeamish people think this looks nasty so we try to replace those goblets with fresh ones.
All this time I waited there in the wings with a third of the loaf of Udi’s Gluten-free bread wrapped in a white damask napkin hoping this made it look more like a whole loaf rather than slices. Raquel’s small group would all take the same bread and my money was betting that they would never know the difference. And this would be one bite of food that I knew for a fact would be safe for Raquel to eat.
When her group came on stage and circled up I walked straight to Raquel. “Raquel, this is the bread of heaven given for you.” She looked at me with huge brown eyes behind her glasses and hesitated a bit. Finally she looked up at me and asked a little timidly but in anticipation, “Is this gluten-free?”
There is something about serving the sacraments that can be emotional. In that moment I thought of all the phone calls, drives to grocery stores, plans made and plans changed. Tears came to my eyes and my voice choked with serene victory ”Yes, Raquel, it is.”