South Carolina churches to offer gluten-free Communion bread

A handful of churches in South Carolina are offering their members a gluten-free option for Holy Communion.

Several churches made the decision to offer the specialized bread during the Holy Eucharist for members who have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten.

“It’s an easy enough gesture to do to extend a hand of welcome,” Rev. Adam J. Shoemaker, who serves as rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church said to The Post and Courier.

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At St. Stephen’s, the gluten-free and gluten wafers are kept on different plates to avoid mix-up.

Shoemaker considers the small change to be 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, referring to the five members of the 170-member congregation who require gluten-free bread. “I think it’s worth the small effort.”

In July, the Vatican declared gluten-free bread would not be allowed in the Catholic Church,

“Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist,” Cardinal Robert Sarah said in a letter to bishops in June and made public in July.

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Bread and wafers used in the celebration of the Eucharist “must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition,” Sarah said in the letter.

However, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston said the diocese has no policy on the gluten-free wafer option, The Post and Courier reports.

“Each individual priest is responsible for having a dialogue with and trying his best to accommodate those parishioners with celiac disease or other complications, so they may receive Holy Communion without experiencing any health problems,” the diocese said.

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This is not the first time churches have made adjustments to the Eucharist for their members.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Kennedy, who pastors St. Peter’s AME Church in North Charleston, told The Post and Courier that his church has offered grape juice as an option during Communion, and recently starting offering water to members with diabetes.

“We look at the symbolism,” Kennedy said. “The water is symbolic also.”