Grounded by bread
For many Wake Divinity students the summer is an ideal time to delve into internships that provide significant and meaningful opportunities for their vocational discernment and formation as future religious leaders. From working in hospice and palliative care, ministries supporting the imprisoned, homeless and burdened, assisting with art and restoration efforts of a living museum, to being immersed into the fullness of congregational life in a diverse array of churches, Wake Divinity students are dispersing across the country. This summer, the Unfolding blog will feature weekly posts from several students who are participating in an internship. Each story will speak to their expectations and experiences.
In her spiritual memoir Take This Bread, Sara Miles describes her faith as “grounded by pieces of bread.” Having converted to Christianity after receiving communion at a church in San Francisco, Miles writes of how food is not only central to her faith, but becomes the lens through which she views the world, the element that binds her community together, and the means by which she is compelled to act.
Like Miles, I’ve found food to be central to my faith experience as well, particularly over the past few years. At a time in my life when faith felt dry, the writings of Wendell Berry and other agrarian writers brought me renewal and a fresh perspective. Among other things, I became fascinated with the connecting power of food – connecting us with one another, with our land and community, and with God. As part of the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Divinity, these are the connections I’ve been exploring.
This summer, as part of my internship with the Forsyth Community Food Consortium, I had the opportunity to explore many of the ways in which faith communities in our area are engaged at the intersection of food and faith. My findings were encouraging: I learned that there are over 600 faith-based organizations in Forsyth County involved in some kind of food ministry, including food pantries, soup kitchens, community gardens, and many forms of food justice advocacy. My conversations with the leaders and participants in many of these ministries were among some of the highlights of my summer.
One of the most encouraging conversations I had was with Rick Frazier, a leader and organizer of the food pantry at Wentz Memorial United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem. At Wentz, food seems almost secondary to the many other things being offered at their pantry. When community members arrive to receive food, they are welcomed by music, warm smiles, and a host of pastoral staff and laypeople who are there to talk with them and listen to their stories. The purpose, Rick told me, was not just to provide food to those in need, but to build a stronger community by welcoming any and all who are seeking connection and a place to belong. The result is a food pantry that offers much more than food; they nourish all who come through their doors with unconditional love, support, and the knowledge and assurance that there is always a place for them at the table.
There is transformative power in the breaking and sharing of bread. As Sara Miles writes of her own experience: “The sharing of food was an actual sacrament, one that resonated beyond the church…and into real experience of the divine.” For me, “food and faith” is about much more than feeding hungry people; it is about creating space for the divine experiences that exist when we join together, grounded by pieces of bread, and share the good news that all are welcome at God’s table.
Brian is a native of Raleigh, and is part of the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Divinity. When not in class, he enjoys leisurely walks in the park, acting in local community theatre, and spending time with his friends and family. His favorite book is “Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry, and his favorite foods are sweet potatoes, blueberries, and any kind of baked good.