Food, faith and lockdown
We're not meeting for meals as before - but doorstep encounters in the sharing of food have proved to be a key meeting, growing and life giving element during lockdown, Baptist minister Claire Nicholls explains
Those who know me will know I am passionate about the role of food in building faith community. The bonds we make around the table are key in building community. Relationships are built, we learn off one another, the table equalises us and we all have to eat. It's central to who I am as a person and in my calling to minister.
And not gathering around the table has been hard. For us in our church community, food is normally central to what we do. From our community cafe that had just reopened and begun to build in momentum, to our mental health support group that ends with a meal, to our first Sunday gatherings around the most amazing bring and shares you've ever seen, to the impromptu moments in the church building between and around the groups we lead, to every meeting where someone will inevitably bring in biscuits or cake or chocolate, to our holiday Make Lunch sessions where families come together round the table to share life together in what would otherwise be a difficult time.
Yet now, the only food activity that has continued since our building closed for anything but this very thing is the now twice a week deliveries of food from the amazing charity Fareshare to households we support. As we sort the food for the deliveries we make, some of the value of the table is there - the conversations that go on in the kitchen echo with the joy of meals gone by and the opportunities that gathering around food brings for sharing life together are hinted at as we gather round tables to share out food.
The question of re-opening our buildings and how that will work and what it will look like is hovering in the air. What does church look like post lockdown for a community focussed church without the resources of some of the bigger churches where during lockdown the support needed in the community has been magnified?
And it turns out that actually, the change in our gathering around food has given us some of the answers. In a community where physical presence is key, where internet connection is often on a mobile, where private outside space is minimal and where mental health issues are only going to grow as a result of the trauma we have experienced in the last few months, the issues around social distancing in a building to worship are not the issues at the forefront of all of our minds. How do we build community when physically meeting is more difficult? How can we offer mental health support where through the screen we can't tell what the other is thinking?
In a Facebook group, we had this discussion and we began to talk about how food has continued to be a key meeting, growing and life giving thing during lockdown. As we haven't as much gathered, but have paused as we play knock a door step back on deliveries, the deep love of Jesus has been felt in that two metre gap. Where food has been a reason for encounters, those encounters have become beautiful and, at times, essential.
Often when you meet an individual or family on the doorstep you are the only person they have seen that day. The conversations that are had at that point are often pastorally important, absolutely needed and what my church community calls 'God moments'. One week I spent two hours delivering salad leaves, not because we had a lot (although we did) but because of the conversations we had and along with one of our other drivers who encountered someone at absolutely the right moment, we were able to be church on the doorstep through the moments we had on the way. We wouldn't have been able to have those conversations without the salad leaves.
At the moment it's in those most needed encounters that we feel the presence of God most deeply. Perhaps post lockdown means building on that. Perhaps food is again the answer, not table gathering as such, because that won't be for a while, but door step encounters in the sharing of food, a moment with a neighbour across (or beyond) the garden fence sharing life, a picnic in the park with however many people is safe at that time, a moment outside the church building with coffee and prayer, an open air cafe, a pause outside a block of flats, a sit on a wall. Perhaps in the cake deliveries, in the church garden meetings, we might begin to feel and become the Christ-centred community we long to be.
And one day, we will probably gather and we will probably sing and we will very likely sit tightly round tables in the small space we have, but those doorstep moments we have had on the way will enrich us as we speak of the encounters we have had with the deep love of Jesus, as we've not gathered, but stood, with food in between us, an excuse, a reason for a meeting where God's voice could be heard in the two metre gap.
Image | Christian Stahl | Unsplash
Claire Nicholls is minister of New Addington Baptist Church. This originally appeared on her blog, and is republished with permission
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