Better Together: The Chemistry of Communion

A post by Rebecca Neil, Holy Ground's resident baker.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved to bake. Baking is such a strange thing. You take all of these seemingly unrelated and unpalatable raw ingredients, mix them together, and put them in the oven. Some of my first, and fondest, memories are of measuring, sifting, mixing, and sitting on the floor in front of the oven waiting for the magic to happen. In most cases, what comes out of that oven bears no resemblance to those raw ingredients. When you bake, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

The Mystery of Baking (and Church)

Church is a lot like baking. Especially the way that we do it at Holy Ground. When you look at us on the surface, we can seem like an odd bunch. Like the concoction of oil, flour, and yeast that makes up one of my favorite bread recipes, we don’t always appear to have much in common. A mouthful of any of those leaves much to be desired. Together, though, we have the capacity to be so much more. And like a loaf of bread fresh from the oven, something mysterious happens when we gather that knits us together into a cohesive whole.

Sharing One Loaf

At Holy Ground,  one of the times when this is most palpable is during Communion. In our practice of Communion we share one loaf. Each person breaks off a piece of bread and places it into the outstretched hands of another. We pass a cup of wine and either dip our bread or drink directly from the cup. We make eye contact, we stumble over the words, and sometimes it’s messy and awkward. But, you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s in that messiness and awkwardness that I experience what it means to truly be in community. Those moments are when I am reminded that God shows up in the most mundane parts of life: in bread and wine, in eyes and hands, and in shaking voices. In those moments I am reminded that God is in me, and in every other person with whom I share that loaf.

Gluten-Free for Everyone

This is why it was so important to me that our Communion table is accessible to everyone. When we share in Communion, no matter where we are, it truly becomes holy ground. At Christ’s table, we’re all equals – food allergies notwithstanding – and we have several people in our community who can’t eat gluten. For months I’ve explored the world of baking without gluten and dairy, since it’s important to us to share one loaf, rather than offer multiple bread options. In most breads, gluten is the glue that holds it all together. It's what gives bread its texture and keeps it from falling to pieces. There's no easy automatic substitute. So, I started researching, reading, and playing with different ingredient combinations. I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor in front of my oven watching bread bake and trying to understand what's really going on when all of those ingredients work together.  I’m a Chemistry teacher, so this process has a unique fascination for me.

Through trial and error, revisions, more trials, and a lot more errors,  I’ve finally found a recipe that works. It’s sweet and hearty, freezes and defrosts well, and doesn’t crumble to bits like most gluten free breads. I know a lot more now than I did when I started this process about combining unrelated ingredients and facilitating the process of becoming something together. But in spite of all that knowledge, it all still seems a little mysterious.

And so, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… here’s our recipe.


Holy Ground’s Gluten-Free Communion Bread Recipe

[During my experimentation, I discovered that when it comes to non-wheat flours, measuring by mass is far more accurate than by volume. However, since not everyone has access to scales or feels comfortable measuring by mass, I’ve included both measurements.]

2 tablespoons instant yeast

1 ½ cups warm water (approximately 115°F)

¼  cup olive oil

½ cup honey

472g oat flour (3 ⅓ cups)

65g tapioca flour (½ cup)

88g sweet white rice flour (½ cup)

11g xanthan gum (2 teaspoon)

8g salt (1 teaspoon)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine the yeast and water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Add the oil, honey, flours, and xanthan gum. Beat until combined. Add the salt, cinnamon, and eggs. Beat for several minutes until fluffy. The dough will be sticky, so it’s best to wet your hands with water before handling. Form into loaves. We use 6-inch round pans, and it makes approximately 8-10 flat loaves.  Cover with a towel and allow to rise for about 45 minutes. The loaves should about double in size. Bake until internal temperature reaches approximately 210°F. For the small loaves, this should take approximately 12-15 minutes. Allow the loaves to cool completely. Store in air-tight container or freeze in individual ziploc bags.

Recipe adapted from:

Picture: the author baking at age 6.