Sharing bread communion together is a long-standing tradition at UUCE. This year, like so many other events, we are taking a different approach to join virtually in community. During the service, select members will share what bread and community mean to them.
Bread Communion Cookbook
Since we cannot share in a physical bread communion this year, we decided to share in a spiritual one. The Worship Team put together a recipe book focused around bread, with recipes collected from the UUCE congregation. Many congregants shared what made each bread recipe special to them or their family.
The reading from today’s service can be found in our Bread Communion Cookbook.
I’d like to begin this morning by sharing some words adapted from Sheri Prud’homme.
This morning we are going to call upon the spirit of bread communions from the past, sharing in bread and community in reimagined ways. Today we are grateful to have reflections from three members, Jen Day, Tom Durkin, and Todd Underwood, using their words as symbolic bread to help strengthen our community even if we are not physically together. I invite you to sit back, relax, and share in their gifts.
I’m going to lead you down a bit of a rabbit hole. Come with me, and I promise not to leave you there, alone in a dark, scary place. All will end well.
For some, bread communion is a privilege. Bread itself being the privileged item. For most people, coming together and sharing food is a pleasure – a cause for celebration. But for many people this is an extremely stressful exercise. There could be a food allergy to one or more ingredients. It could challenge their current dietary restrictions, whether those be by choice or by medical mandate. It could even be a more silent cause, such as an eating disorder or other illness that makes the idea of coming together to share food incredibly hard.
Like many families in the congregation, food allergies are the culprit in my household. Learning of a loved one’s allergies to common foods makes you stop and consider all food differently. What are the ingredients? What are the more processed ingredients derived from? Were they processed on equipment shared with allergens?
And when the situation is a group setting, the questions grow exponentially. Who prepared this food? Do we trust that they know how to avoid cross contamination? Where is it being served? Do we trust both the hosts and the attendees around us not to mix up serving spoons or drop contaminants from other potluck items into dishes that should be safe to eat? Did we bring the epi-pens and Benadryl? Do those who are around my kids know not to share food with them without clearing it with me first?
This is the constant running dialogue in the head of someone with food allergies in their life. And if this sounds difficult, it is. It is downright exhausting. And if it sounds annoying, please stop for a moment and realize how envious we are of people like you. People who don’t have to scrutinize every bit of food and those who prepared it. How much we would love to not have to think about these things. Keeping our loved ones safe and healthy is paramount. But if you do not have to stop and consider every bite you eat, you are privileged. If you can go to a restaurant or a grocery store or a potluck and the hardest part is selecting your meal from all the choices, you are privileged.
Imagine Halloween, and taking your toddler out to Trick-or-Treat the first year after learning of the allergies. Now, do it again with Easter egg hunts, and sweet tables and dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthday parties. Birthday celebrations and class parties at school are another area that should be easy communion with friends, but scare allergy parents to their core.
With so much focus on food, one has to stop and consider what else is important with the event. And then, if it is worth the stress of attending at all. And sometimes, one has to make new traditions that fit their family’s needs.
If you live without any of these stressors, please take a moment for gratitude. Appreciate that this is an area of ease in your life.
Luckily for us, UUCE is a community that has been welcoming in this regard. We do not fear being ostracized for speaking up about our needs. And so, our family has gratitude. It is a privilege for us to be in community with people who pause to consider needs outside their own. Thank you for being awesome. Thank you for being welcoming to us.
Can you guess where I am going with this?
In this pandemic, I suspect many of you have experienced situations not unlike having a food allergy diagnosis. These times have dumped new restrictions on us and our interactions without our consent. We were thrust into a situation where we have to suddenly stop and think about which activities are safe and which aren’t. We need to consider the safety and wellbeing of those around us, and make sure we are acting in their best interests as well as our own. And while doing this, some of us may find ourselves at odds with our loved ones. Some of us may feel isolated. We may also be overwhelmed that everything we used to take for granted is now just So. Freaking. Hard. We may long for the days before the pandemic, when we didn’t have to scrutinize everything.
Holiday celebrations may cancel, or mutate into something unrecognizable. Birthdays, social activities, concerts, sporting events, everything is either gone or postponed. And to this I say, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that you have to experience something that shakes your foundations this way. But if the allergy community serves as an example, we will get through this. We will adapt. We will find our true allies, the ones who understand our particular needs, and support each other through tough times. We find what we are truly grateful for, and we adapt to our new situation. And once a vaccine is out and the numbers come down, I am so looking forward to the time that we can all be together in person again. When I can hug my friends, and sing together in services with all of you, and share some allergy-friendly bread with all of you, this community of people who are so very welcoming.
The thing I like about Bread Communion is that it reminds me of the Christian roots of both Unitarianism and Universalism – not because of the miracle of transubstantiation of my Catholic upbringing in which the elements of bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ during the ceremony, but rather because it represents a communal meal to which all are welcomed to share.
If you have any background in Christianity you are probably aware that the sacrament of communion is seen as a reenactment of the Last Supper on the night before Jesus was crucified, but that isn’t the only meal we hear about Jesus participating in. Unlike today where we often find ourselves eating alone and on the run, in the world in which Jesus lived, mealtime was a communal affair. More importantly, who you ate with said a lot about your place in society.
Jesus ate with everything, including sinners and tax collectors. He not only ate with them, but used the meals as teaching opportunities. In UU terms this reminds me of our first and third principles: “The inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth.” The religious leaders at the time didn’t like this though, because they saw it as an affront to the social norms. But as a good liberal, Jesus stood in opposition to the norms that marginalized so many as unfit to eat with.
I have to say though, that while the idea of everyone being welcome at the table – including sinners and tax collectors – sounds like the right thing to do, it can still be very uncomfortable.
Feeding the Hungry
Most of you probably know that feeding the hungry is very important to me. So a number of years ago I was quite excited about my first opportunity to serve at Dignity Diner in Chicago. It felt like I was doing something very important as we prepared the food, set the tables, and then served the guests. But then the coordinator told all of the volunteers to join the guests at their tables. My level of discomfort rose dramatically. What would I have to talk about with these people? How could I eat near the ones that smelled bad? Would they think I was lording my good fortune over them? But I stepped out of my comfort zone and joined the guests.
What I learned was that some people liked to talk and others didn’t; some liked what we were eating and some would have preferred something else; some were Cubs fans and some were Sox fans; some were healthy and some were suffering physically or emotionally. In other words: all of the things that I could find at a meal with my peers. It was even possible to focus on the meal and the guests in spite of some of the odors. I learned that it is easier to get to know people that are living a different life by sharing a meal with them, making it easier to see them as people rather than as guests or clients to be pitied because they needed my help.
I have tried to remember this as I continue my volunteer work in feeding the hungry. It still often requires me to step out of my comfort zone, but it also usually makes the experience much more meaningful.
I love being part of a spiritual community that honors the example Jesus set in his life more than the dogma adopted about him in the centuries following his execution. But I also know that for some, any ceremony that even hints at being Christian can bring forth negative feelings. So I want to share the following quite from Rev. Scotty McLennan from his book Christ for Unitarian Universalists, on viewing bread communion through a UU lens.
I’m proud to say that while we only break bread together during worship once a year, we do pour love into the world in our with with PADS, Crop Walk, the Community Crisis Center, and the many other ways we feed and clothe and heal and comfort others as a congregation, or as individuals.
So, as we share this meal together, albeit virtually, let us remember that a UU communion is a ritual celebration of our commitment to our first and third principles.
Hello, my name is Todd Underwood and as a part of our bread communion service today, I wanted to share my love for making German soft pretzels. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now, and it’s something that originally caught my eye because of the complexity of the recipe. The more that I’ve made them though, the easier they’ve gotten and I’ve found it fun to teach people of all ages. If you’ve known me for a while, you’ve probably had a chance to try them. Many of you have taken classes from me through the Service Auction at church, or when our kids were younger, they’d have friends over on a rainy day and they would cover our kitchen with flour and salt. I really like that pretzels have been given away as gifts for hundreds of years. They’re a symbol of love, good luck, and prosperity, and whenever I make a batch, I always give some of them away.
So, let’s take a look at how you go about making them.