"It's become a major problem for us here," said Rev. Eldridge Greer or Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hannover, MI. "We take communion here on a weekly basis. Many of our parishioners are on these low-carb diets, and those carbs really begin to add up every week."
The exact amount of carbohydrates in communion bread can vary greatly depending on a number of factors. Some denominations use only unleavened bread in small wafers. In these cases the amount of carbohydrates per wafer is approximately 2-3. Grape juice or wine adds another 1-2 carbohydrates, making the total only 3-5 carbohydrates per communion.
But some denominations have a greater cause for concern. Greer's church uses regular leavened bread for communion, and parishioners tear pieces off of the loaf when they come forward to receive the sacrament.
"It's possible that people are getting pieces of bread that contain 6-7 carbs per piece," said Greer. "When they add in the carbs from the wine it can come out as high at 10 carbs! We just don't think it's right to put that kind of stress on our people, especially when some have told me that they're only supposed to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 carbs per day."
Greer said that parishioners began complaining to him and the other ministers of the church several months ago, but he never knew exactly what to do in response to their complaints. It wasn't until recently that he and other church leaders began to notice that a large portion of members simply began to not take communion.
"They just quit coming forward to take the sacrament. At first we thought that maybe there was some great trial or sin going on in the life of the church that we had somehow missed. We were very very concerned. It wasn't until we talked to some of our people that we realized just what was going on."
Members of other denominations are also dealing with this very complicated issue. Clergy in the United Episcopal Church, a denomination which also takes weekly communion, have met on a number of occasions to discuss various options. The Right Reverend Ellen McCollough-Hughes of the UEC commented on the issue stating, "We don't want to offend anyone on this issue. We're not saying that carbohydrates are bad, nor are we saying that they are good. What may be right for some of our members may not be right for others. We want to be open to further dialog on this issue."
"This really hasn't affected us here," said pastor Danny Douglas of Falls Spring Baptist Church, Livingston, SC. "We take the Lord's Supper only about 4 or 5 times a year, and we usually follow that with a pot-luck dinner on the grounds meal. I haven't heard any complaints from any of our folks."
Though the weight of the issue seems varied across the denominational board, it has merited enough concern that religious leaders from all walks of life are expected to meet and discuss the issue this summer at a national seminar to be held in Topeka, KS that will be called The Consortium for the Development of Sacramental Dietary Practice.
"We feel it is our responsibility to accomodate our people," said Greer. "So we are going to start offering a low-carb communion line for those on the various diets. We've been able to get a regular supply of low-carb bread and sugar-free grape juice. We've estimated that the average parishoner taking communion will only consume 1-2 carbs."