Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

11/13 2013

The Quest for a Common Loaf


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“Take and eat,” Jesus said, passing the bread around. And everybody did, except for Philip, who went away hungry, for he was allergic to gluten.

Oh, wait, that’s not how the story goes!

There is no evidence to suggest that any of the disciples suffered from a wheat allergy, but lots of Christians do today. And that makes it challenging to come up with communion elements that everyone in a given Christian community can enjoy together. Yes, there are other ways you can handle the issue.You can of course have a little plate of gluten-free wafers on the side for those who need them. But somehow it just doesn’t match the extravagant spirit of the meal itself—those forlorn little wafers for the complicated ones in the shadow of the big crusty loaf blessed and broken for everyone else.

Those of us who support the PTS chapel program have been on the quest for a common loaf for a couple of years now. We have tried many a gluten-free loaf, looking for that perfect combination of breakability and taste.

There have been some real disasters over these months: There was the loaf that was, yes, gluten-free, but exploded into a fine crumbly powder when broken, with each worshipper leaving behind a trail of bread crumbs that would make Hansel and Gretel proud. There was the one that didn’t show its true colors until a hunk of it was dipped into the cup of wine, at which point it promptly dissolved. What are you supposed to do as you watch your piece of bread sink beneath the waves never to be heard from again? The body of Christ, sunken for you? All you could do was choke out a mournful “Amen” and head back to your seat. Finally there was the one that worked beautifully for the gluten-intolerant members of our community, but it did so by adding ingredients from the nightshade family, thus rendering it off limits for another member of our community! Back to the big crusty loaf and the lonely wafers.

The turning point came a couple of months ago, when PTS M.Div. senior Charissa Howe found a recipe for gluten-free, nightshade-free, nut-free, vegan bread and did some tweaking. The final version calls for some uncommon ingredients: chia seeds, maple syrup, psyllium husks, and garbanzo flour, to name a few. It does not explode, crumble, or dissolve into the cup, and it has a wonderful taste and texture.

Four people from the PTS community have graciously been baking this new bread for our Thursday chapel service each week, passing the basket of unusual ingredients around: Kendra Smith, Charissa Howe, Shana Hutchings, and Greg Steible.  We also have some new volunteers who will soon join the rotation, but we can always use some more! If you are interested in baking bread for chapel, contact our chapel coordinator Greg Steible (gsteible@pts.edu).

So next time you come to chapel on a Thursday, take a good look at that uncommon, common loaf there on the table.

Kind of a parable, don’t you think?

Written by The Rev. Dr. Angela Hancock, Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Worship