Brown bread for communion
At our last Racial Justice Ministry meeting, a discussion of white privilege led to an examination of white images in our church. Were there any that we could change? We talked about pictures of white Jesus and white doves, but we also looked at other symbols that are typically white, like communion bread. What would the congregation do if we served brown bread instead of white? I decided give it a go last Sunday. As Deacon of Worship, I am in charge of setting up communion, and I have always followed the guidelines in the church binder, which specifies white bread.
I told the minister of my intent and he replied that his only concern about changing the bread had to do with people’s allergies or sensitivities. So my first task was to find bread that would have no more allergens than the bread we always used. Also, as whole wheat bread tends to have less elasticity than white bread, I wanted to make sure I found bread that retained its shape when cut into cubes and wouldn’t crumble.
After some online research, I found two breads recommended for their “tight crumb” and uniform texture: Whole Foods 100% Organic Whole Wheat and Vermont Bread Company Organic Whole Wheat. Even better, these breads didn’t have soy products or chemical preservatives which meant they had even fewer allergens than the white bread we typically used. How pure could I get?
I cut slices of each type into cubes and used my family members for a taste test. I also thought I needed a third bread to round out the sample and so I cut up some of our Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat bread that I had on our shelf.
The Vermont Bread Company Whole Wheat has an complex taste that I knew wouldn’t go over with the kids (I imagined having to clean up spit-out bits of communion bread after the service), so I rejected that one right away. The Trader Joe’s bread has cracked wheat in it, so I wasn’t sure how that would be received by people expecting a uniform texture. The Whole Foods bread seemed perfect, smooth and a little sweet. However, I noticed as I conducted the test with different family members over the course of the afternoon that my cubes of bread got stale sitting out in the air. Not good. Those cubes of bread would have to sit out on the trays at least an hour before the communion service would begin. That meant that the Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat, even with its chewy bits, was preferable to the Whole Foods.
The ingredient that helped the bread stay spongy and soft—the one ingredient that Trader Joe’s bread had in it that the others didn’t—was soy lecithin. So I needed to remove my restriction on soy. Back I went to the store. The only two that I found that didn’t also have artificial chemicals were Pepperidge Farm Classic 100% Whole Wheat and Nature’s Own 100% Whole Wheat. So I bought a loaf of each and conducted a second test, comparing them with the Trader Joe’s bread in their tastiness as well as their ability to stay soft over time.
The Nature’s Own 100% Whole Wheat Bread is fluffier, with more air pockets, so even with the soy lecithin, it still dries out quickly. The Pepperidge Farm Classic 100% Whole Wheat was perfect, having all the qualities that I was looking for. I had found a winner.
Here are the results of my communion bread survey, in order of my preference (best to worst):
Soy or not?
|Pepperidge Farm Classic Whole Wheat||Uniform tight crumb||Smooth, no cracked wheat||Contains soy||Sweet and mild, yummy|
|Nature’s Own Whole Wheat||Loose crumb (air pockets)||Smooth, no cracked wheat||Contains soy||Bland|
|Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat||Tight crumb||Lumpy, contains cracked wheat, spongy||Contains soy||Smooth, chewy, yummy|
|Whole Foods OrganicWhole Wheat||Tight crumb||Smooth, uniform, no cracked wheat||No soy||Smooth, good taste, but gets stale quickly|
|Vermont Nature Company Organic Whole Wheat||Tight crumb||Tough, chewy, no cracked wheat||No soy||Complex, sour taste: not kid-friendly, gets stale quickly|
Early Sunday morning, I sliced up the Pepperidge Farm Whole wheat bread and loaded it on our gold communion trays. I was nervous. It looked so different than the white bread had on those shiny plates. How would the congregation react? I covered the trays with lids and set them out for the service.
Restless, I paced the sanctuary, waiting for people to arrive. I confided to one of the ushers that the communion trays had brown bread under their glistening covers. He raised his eyebrows and told me that ten years ago (before I moved to this town) when the Deacon of Worship had served whole whole wheat communion bread it caused such a stir and protest that “it was like God was dead!” Great. That made me even more nervous.
To my surprise, the communion serving went over without a hitch. Without murmuring or discomfort, everyone took the bread that was served; the spirit in the room was meditative and quiet as the soloist’s soulful singing filling the sanctuary. After the service, I expected that some elder member would chastise me or mention something, but no one did. I even asked a few of my friends if they had noticed. One said she was more focused on the singing. She had noticed the bread, but just chuckled to herself: “Yeah, that’s Betsy, wanting us to eat healthy during communion!”
So there you go, folks. It seems that, in our congregation at least, we are moving away from needing to have whiteness represented in our communion, at least in the bread. The body of Christ can just as easily be represented with brown bread as with white.