When I was in seminary, I developed a life-threatening airborne food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. For the first four years of my allergy, I went into anaphylaxis once a year, and once on an airplane. I have learned over the years that it is much easier to avoid any food that is given to me when I cannot be assured of the source. I also do not want to disturb any meal by going into anaphylaxis in front of everyone. That’s happened enough.
And yes, often this includes abstaining from communion. For the “bread of life” could be my death.
I often do not take communion because I do not always know the origin of where the bread was made. Could it have been processed in the same facility as nuts? Has it been cross-contaminated? These questions go through my mind as the bread is lifted up.
The welcome table is not always welcoming for people like me, with invisible disabilities. Don’t take it personally, readers, while 32 million people have food allergies, it’s not visible and can go unnoticed.
However, at the NEXT Church National Gathering this spring something different and extraordinary happened. Before worship started, I noticed the communion elements on the table. I went forward and told those setting the table about my food allergies. I asked if it was safe. I was told they would check and find me. In a little while, someone from the leadership team came and sat beside me. They explained that they found the original packaging, called the company and was told it was made in a facility that contained nuts. The leadership person asked me if that was okay. I simply said: “No, and it’s fine. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I am okay. I promise.” I was impressed they called the company, and was already thankful for the effort put into answering my question.
Worship went on. I thought nothing more of it, and it was fine. Then, came the time for everyone to take communion. Someone appeared beside me with Pringles and a cup. They said, “We don’t want anyone left out.” So, as everyone took the elements, so did I. I took communion with a Pringle and I cried.
There were over 575 people at this conference, and the leadership team found a way for me to join the Eucharistic feast. This joyful feast will be one of my favorite communion stories in my life. I was truly part of the community.
Thank you, NEXT leadership team for your care and compassion for me. Most of all, thank you for showing up beside me with a Pringles and a cup, so I could join the community. Thank you NEXT Church for the Eucharistic Pringle, and the behind-the-scenes work to find a way for me to participate.
All were fed at this time, in this place. For that, thanks be to God. Amen.
JOANNA HIPP is a free-range pastor in the Presbytery of Charlotte. She is a member of the presbytery’s ministry resource committee, president of the alum board of Louisville Seminary and serves on the executive board of Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice.