Bright, brown eyes peeked over the communion table at me as I finished placing multiple breads on it shortly before the service started on World Wide Communion Sunday. “Is that the bread we made yesterday?” he asked with wonder and awe in his voice.
I was newly ordained and eager to share all I had learned in my education and training; and full of ideas for bringing the gospel to life in our time and place. I shared a ‘Breads of the Peoples’ communion liturgy with my Session and proposed an all-ages bread baking day. We could get to know each other in a setting that required participation and hands on involvement, reflect on how bread was central to both body and soul, get to know each other and begin to create shared memories and bonds that I hoped would deepen over time. My Session agreed and we set the date for the Saturday before World Wide Communion.
The chosen morning dawned; I had purchased the ingredients to make five different kinds of bread: corn bread, multi-grain, pita bread, nut bread and soda bread, each of them representing different peoples from around the world. I had no idea how many people would show up, the only stipulation had been that you couldn’t just drop your children off, it was an all ages event.
First one family arrived; both parents and two children. Then another, this time one parent and three children, then another, and another and another, pretty soon there were twenty five people ranging in age from three to fifty five. For a congregation whose average Sunday attendance was around forty, this was an amazing turnout.
We started with making a couple of batches of cinnamon biscuits, so that there would be a quick reward. Each child took a turn in measuring/adding/mixing ingredients and then they were popped in the oven. Then we started the multi-grain and pita breads as they needed time to rise. Co-operation reigned high that morning with the adults each taking a group of children under their wing. We quickly discovered that it was better when family groups were separated.
As we measured, mixed and kneaded, stories were incorporated into the breads. Stories from the adults of making bread with a parent or grandparent and how a mother or grandparent was remembered each time she made bread, stories of the death of a mother in one woman’s teenage years and never learning the skill and art of bread making with her, stories of living on a farm in England and fresh bread with butter from their cows. Children shared stories of their favourite breads and foods. I shared my story of Christmas baking with my sisters each year and the response, “We will be your sisters while you are here.” Our stories began to be kneaded together in the making of the bread.
Everyone had a turn kneading those two breads and they were set to rise. As we mixed the remaining quick breads, there was much disappointment from the children that these didn’t need to be handled in the same way, that once the mixing was done, they could be popped in the oven and baked. The cinnamon biscuits were done, but after sharing the sweet treat, the children got restless s waiting for the next steps. One of the adults grabbed some old magazines and Bristol board and set them to making a collage of bread pictures. Stories from the children arose of favourite breads and foods, stories of amazement at so many different kinds of bread, stories of surprise at how often bread was part of everyday meals and special ones, stories of connection and meaning.
The breads baked and were cooled, the kitchen cleaned and everything put away and everyone dispersed to their separate homes and weekend tasks. Silence reigned once but the smell and images of the shared task lingered on, warming my heart with these beginning connections. Bread is so much more than simple nutrition; bread is community and home and family.
The next morning, the sanctuary buzzed with heightened energy as people saw all the bread displayed on the table. In this communion liturgy, there is a short definition of what each bread represents: Corn bread, our native people, multigrain, the justice makers, pita bread, the bread of the Middle East, nut bread, the bread of those who are considered irrational by our norms, soda bread, for those who need justice now! People are invited to choose the bread they connect with that morning. In my tradition, The United Church of Canada, children are welcome to the table no matter what their age. Each child approached the table with intense concentration, without fail, each child chose the one that he or she had helped make.
Jesus was known in the making and the baking of the bread, Jesus was known in breaking of the bread.
Through the Eyes of a Child by Rev. Catherine MacDonald is from There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments and the Healing Power of Humor, Edited by Rev. Martha Spong, 2015, SkyLight Paths Publishing,www.skylightpaths.com.