November 23, 2012

Through the Kitchen Door

Now let us praise famous church kitchens…

When I was once a "spiritual but not religious" person living in a Midwestern community of artists, musicians, dumpster diving punks, organic farmers, & aspiring permaculturalists, one of the ways I found myself back inside a church building--I am not exactly sure now of its denomination--was by way of a food co-op hosted in the parish basement.

To be a member of the food co-op, one needed to volunteer a certain number of hours per month. My friends were regular whole wheat tortilla makers and I was grateful to be introduced to their ritual. The sanctuary for this sacred practice was an enormous and beautiful church kitchen built in the mid 20th Century. As we mixed the flour and rolled out the dough, the conversation always turned to the spiritual. Perhaps this would have happened anywhere we were “spiritual but not religious” after all, but the fact that we were doing this work in some community’s sacred space was not lost on us. There wasn’t anyone from the church there to tell us about the place--who used it on Sundays, who built it, why they so graciously shared it with the co-op. However, ever since that time I’ve had a deep and abiding affection for church kitchens, of all shapes and sizes. Some church folks, when they visit another church, want to check out the organ and the stained glass windows. I always want to see the kitchen.

I have a hunch that there are quite a few folks out there for whom the church kitchen door was easier to enter (or re-enter), at least at first, than the one to the sanctuary.

By now, I have listened to many stories about church kitchens. I know stories of my aunt spending summers cooking in the kitchen of an Episcopal Church camp. Stories of a food ministry begun in the underutilized caterer’s kitchen in a large church where non-worship attending volunteers regularly outnumber church members. I have stories of youth group mission and beach trips funded by spaghetti dinners. I also know of churches with all the best and finest equipment rarely touched or put to use to feed anybody. And churches with little space or adequate equipment regularly turning out feasts for crowds.

Cooking is only a small part of what goes on in a church kitchen. Not everything that happens in them is holy. I have heard stories of loud shouting matches, hurt feelings, cut fingers, and burnt offerings. I’ve also seen lives change, resurrections happen, people discovering a new vocation, skills shared, treasured recipes passed on, class, race, age, gender, and all sorts of other differences bridged.

What are your church kitchen stories?

In my next video for ECF, I’ll share a collection of a few from some of our neighbors, members and friends at St. Cyprian’s. Stay tuned.