As our lives have changed over the past few months, Kathleen Blackey shares one way that she has continued to connect with God and love her neighbors through her baking.
Three years ago I found myself captivated by beautiful loaves of bread that I stumbled upon on Instagram. I had a baby who required my attention all day long. She was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, and the medication to keep the seizures from happening had some challenging side effects. I spent most of my days holding this precious little girl, and my phone was my window to the outside world. I’m not sure how I stumbled on these bread pictures, but I remember showing pictures to a friend saying, “This is what I want to do.” It took about a year to figure out what that meant and how to accomplish this goal with my already full life.
Two years ago I began a sourdough starter with a friend. I named my starter, Arti, short for “artos,” which means bread in Greek. I did this before it was the popular “stay home, stay safe” activity. I began offering trades for a loaf. I’ve traded loaves for local eggs, plants, and babysitting. A few months in I was baking two loaves one afternoon, and it hit me that I really didn’t need a second loaf. I messaged a neighbor who had recently gone through a traumatic loss asking her if she wanted it. My response to all that’s hard in this world is to give away bread, not because it will erase all that is hard, but to let people know that someone cares about them. If I can show people that they are loved with a simple loaf of bread, I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do.
This began something that I was not expecting. I began giving bread away. I realized the more that I gave it away, the more it was becoming a spiritual discipline. “God, who will get this loaf?” And while I’m a pastor who bakes bread, it’s really more of a personal thing that bleeds its way into my ministry. Sometimes I get my kids in on it - we call it a “spy kids mission” and they’ll sneak a loaf in someone’s car at church or while we’re out and about. Sometimes I let them decide who will get a loaf.
My family has become my biggest support in my desire to bake more sourdough bread. They eat my bread and share in my joy of baking. We’ve had many adventures including learning how to bake bread with coals and a camp dutch oven with legs, so I can bake whenever we go camping together. Their one rule is that I can’t bring Arti with me on a plane, but I have been known to bring a few loaves with me!
I found myself buying more and more flour and giving more and more bread away. I’ve come out of my comfort zone bringing bread to neighbors I don’t know. I make meals for families who welcome new babies with a loaf or two. Teachers get loaves. Last fall one of my friends in talking with the school nurse asked if I could bake for the school backpack program - a way to get food to families over the weekend. I got a beautiful opportunity to help out these families with something that I loved to do, and so many people have supported me along my journey. I had developed a weekly rhythm of building up my starter on Wednesdays, baking on Thursdays, and delivering on Fridays as I brought my daughter, who is no longer a baby but still needs support, to school for her special help.
Then suddenly with all that has been happening with the virus, we decided to stop offering bread in the backpack program. The families are still receiving food, but with so many unknowns, we decided this break was best. Baking has looked a lot different recently. I send texts to people God has placed on my mind asking them if they want bread. I usually receive a quick response. I leave the bread in a garage or entryway while wearing a mask. I baked a few loaves the other weekend, and left them on a table set out on my front porch. I invited Facebook and Instagram friends to make trades. I received fiddleheads, homemade bread, maple syrup, prosciutto from a local butcher, and a couple Peace Teas. The great part was the opportunity for social interaction from those who dropped off these things. With a table on the porch, they could pick up a loaf, drop off their item, and we could talk while keeping our distance.
I’m not sure what God has in store for my bread baking, but I know that it’s been a way for me to connect with God and a way for me to love my neighbors.
If you want to follow some of Kathleen’s sourdough adventures, you can find her @fellowshipbread on Instagram.
“And the Church must be forever building
And always decaying,
And always being restored.” (T.S. Eliot, “The Rock”)
Congregations go through predictable stages in their history. There is a dynamic birth stage as a new congregation is planted. Then there are later seasons in which a congregation is at a point of vital growth and flourishing. Some aspects of ministry flow more easily in those seasons, as often attendance and giving are increasing. But eventually a congregation arrives at a plateau where growth slows and a congregation finds a rhythm and stability. After a plateau another season of growth can occur, but more often a period of decline appears. At those points of decline the congregation needs to be helped back toward vitality. This course examines both the reasons for decline and malaise in congregations, and what solutions are possible to get those congregations back to flourishing. To help a complex organization like a local congregation come back toward a place of flourishing comprises many different disciplines. There is a whole organic system to engage and seek to restore. The reasons for decline are complex and so are the reasons for growth. A growing field of literature is devoted to this place in the life of a congregation. Leadership skills are especially important in this aspect of revitalizing a congregation.
This course is offered in partnership with Lifetree, TABCOM School of Ministry and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. It will meet 6-9pm Friday night, and 9am-5pm Saturday on September 25th-26th and November 6th-7th, 2020.
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