Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gluten Free Communion

One of the few times when I don't want to panic about gluten or dairy sneaking its way into my food is during communion.  When I first started attending Urban Village Church in Chicago, I always had a mini panic attack.  What if they didn't have gf communion?  Are they handling it correctly?  Is it really gluten free or does it have minute traces of wheat like wafers from the Catholic Church? (I will not take communion at a Catholic service after reading articles like this and this where the answer to "Is it safe?" is "Probably".)  Every week, with eagle eyes, I would silently watch the celebrant and make sure he or she did not break the wheat bread over the gluten free wafers.  After a year, one day, the unthinkable happened: while walking to the serving station, someone realized he had too much to carry (half a loaf of wheat bread, a cup, and a plate of gf wafers) and he put the wheat bread on top of the wafers.  As he passed me, we both realized what happened.  I rushed to the serving station and said that the wafers were no longer gluten free.  I sat out from communion that day and prayed, thanking God that I narrowly escaped a gluten reaction.

The innocent action (who can blame him?) opened up a new conversation about how we literally handle the gluten free communion.  We decided that the next week, I would make one loaf for the church: gluten free, vegan, and top 8 allergen free.  I had a recipe in mind and made one of my favorites: the house bread from Flying Apron Bakery's book.  I made it with pumpkin, a perfect fall bread.  The bread was a little difficult to tear in half, but the real difficulty came when breaking off pieces for people.  Growing up, I always had wafers.  The whole tear-off-bread-while-people-wait was new to me.  And after mixing that with a dense bread, there were crumbs everywhere on the floor!  Thankfully our church regularly declares that communion is messy - you will bump into other people - there will be crumbs.  Many people were thankfully goodhearted over the bread - they had no idea what to expect from a wheat free bread - but I knew that there was a better fit out there.

I was determined to find a recipe that worked.  As much as I love the idea of everyone sharing one loaf, the cost and difficulty for me to make a loaf a week was too much. I searched the Internet until I found a recipe that met my needs.  Brittany Angell of has a super easy gluten free and vegan quick bread formula.  She says it has endless flavor possibilities and she is right!  The formula was there, I just followed it with foods that worked for me and my needs and out came communion bread!  The below recipe is top eight allergen free (wheat free, dairy free, soy free, egg free, tree nut free, peanut free, shellfish free, fish free) and vegan.  Surprisingly, the most challenging allergen for me to avoid was soy.  All of my cooking sprays had soy and I needed the dough to actually leave the pan in one piece.  A quick snip of parchment paper to line the loaf pan did the trick!

The recipe below makes four loaves of bread, perfect for a month of communion.  The bread freezes exceptionally well.  Before baking, I always switch over to clean kitchen towels and make sure there are no nuts or peanuts around (I already have a dedicated gluten and dairy free kitchen).  I bought my mini loaf pans from Michaels during an after Christmas sale.  They are exclusively used for communion bread.  I make sure when I run my dishwasher that no peanut or nut dishes are in the same load, for extra precaution.

The bread itself is quite tasty and breaks apart easily and does not crumble to pieces when dipped in grape juice.  I've enjoyed it outside of church, too!

The mini loaves are at the Urban Village Andersonville location whenever I am there. (1602 W Ainslie St at 10:30am on Sundays)  Other Sundays, they use wafers from Ener-G.  I've previously made Namaste Food's sugar free muffin mix for communion as well with great results.

Gluten Free, Top 8 Allergen Free, Vegan Communion Bread

Makes enough communion bread for 4 weeks.

2 cups gluten free all purpose flour (I use Bob's Red Mill GF All Purpose Baking Flour)
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t of xanthan gum or guar gum
3/4 c sugar

1/3 c vegetable oil
3/4 c of rice milk or coconut milk + 1 t apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 c unsweetened applesauce
1 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 330 degrees.  Line four mini loaf pans with parchment paper.
Whisk together all the dry ingredients.
Add in the wet ingredients and mix with a hand mixer.
Pour in the mini loaf pans and bake for 35-45 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean).
Let rest in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Once completely cool, individually wrap the loaves in tin foil and place in a freezer bag, squeezing all the air out first, then storing in the freezer.

To defrost:
The night before, take a mini loaf from the freezer and store in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic container or bag.  In the morning, move from the refrigerator to the counter.  The loaf will be perfect in time for service!  (Assuming about 2 hours passes from rolling out of bed and communion time.)

Some tips on avoiding cross contamination when handling gluten free communion:

  • The standard definition for gluten free is less than 20 parts per million.  Imagine a million grains of rice.  Now imagine that 20 of them are red.  How tiny is that amount!
  • Do not handle wheat bread and then handle gf bread!  Make sure your hands are clean (I'm a huge fan of soap and water - it gets any residual crumbs off the hands).
  • Have a dedicated gf cup and plate.  It is especially helpful to have separate storage containers and towels.
  • If your church literally breaks bread (tears it in half), keep the gf elements out of the "crumb zone".
  • When serving, offer the plate to the recipient and have them tear off their own piece.
  • Everyone's sensitivities are different.  Just because one person who is gluten free since it helps them feel great does not have an issue with cross contamination does not mean that the next person has the same sensitivity level.  Err on the side of caution: always assume a super sensitive person.
  • Now for the hardest one: if despite best intentions, something went wrong and the gf communion was cross contaminated: say something.  Example: someone dips wheat bread in the gf cup.  Not safe for those who need a gf diet.  I'd rather have someone say "no, you can't have that" rather than go home, feel sick, take a nap and take the next day off of work because I'm mysteriously sick.  (It has happened: all of my sick days this past year occurred on Monday after Sunday reactions.)
Every week, I've turned around and caught glances of strangers taking part in the communion celebration with the gluten free loaf.  It seems like every week, one or two new faces try the loaf, and not just because they are curious about gluten free breads!  One thing that brings me great joy is nourishing others through food.  To see so many people being able to participate in something that was previously forbidden due to dietary restrictions really fills me up with such happiness.  This is my contribution to bringing our church community together and growing even stronger as we move through the journey together.

Two great entries from a gf pastor's perspective at GlutenFreeJesusFreak include what to offer for communion and a few different ways of offering gf communion

What does your church do?  Do you have any more tips to add on serving gf communion?


  1. I've never seen communion bread with leavening! Isn't that kind of against the "rules"?

    1. Some churches / faiths have rules that the bread should be flat bread, but by no means is this universal. My own theology simply says that it should be a common every day food staple ... AND that it should be something, if at all possible, all who want to are able to eat! (other cultures use other staple foods by the way).

    2. Sorry, "tamiofbrooksgroth" and "gfcommunionbread" are both from the same actual person ... thought I should start using the GF profile to comment on related items ... and I don't know why my actual profile pic for Wordpress is not showing up so maybe I should just have used a different profile. :-)

  2. Thanks for linking to my page!

    Great tips, here. (And how awesome to offer a recipe that's safe for nearly everyone - gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, even vegan!)

    My church is just a short drive from Chicago (hour and a half), so I look forward to reading more on your blog as I look for restaurants to visit down there!

  3. I just realized I never commented on this when I first discovered this page -- oops! Thank you for publishing not only the recipe but also the story. I just started a blog dedicated to GF communion bread because I get so many questions about it and there are so few resources out there!

    I'm going to link back to this post in a post that I publish within the next few days. As you'll see if you read that post, I had to laugh because I had discovered Brittany's recipe and loved it prior to reading your post and it had never occurred to me to use it as a communion bread recipe :-)

  4. I may try this. Our church is looking for options so that all our congregants feel free to participate in the wonderful gift of Communion. Although, I would need to prepare several batches; as we use 4 reg-sized loaves for communion weekly. Thank you and God Bless!

  5. Can the bread be cut into small pieces?

  6. Does this recipe work well for dipping? Some gluten free recipes don't hold together will for this style of communion. We're working hard to find a bread that will work for us!