Visit our new site at

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Take This Bread" Book Discussion

"Take This Bread" was written by Sara Miles about her life before becoming a Christian, becoming a Christian and then living out her Christianity. She has probably lived "nine lives" through her experience as a war journalist, and that experience set a background for her understanding of the Eucharist and food. Her upbringing was Atheistic with a fervor, seasoned with her parents bitterness with the church. At the same time in her background lies her grandparents' "activist/missionary" Christianity.
That she wandered into a church, St Gregory's Episcopal church, received communion and found herself transformed was not a happenstance. Her transformation led her to not just serve the Eucharist during the worship time, but to serve the bread, the food, the groceries to the hungry of San Francisco. She did this all the while being scorned for her new found faith by her friends and family, and dealing with opposition within the church. It is powerful that she then writes about these experiences openly in the book; "Take This Bread". This book, her life, her Christianity challenges us in our own lives, churches and neighborhoods on how are we sharing this "Bread of Life" or not sharing it.

I love the title of this book, it reminds me of several other book titles, Peterson's "Eat this Book", and the book we read and discussed a couple of months ago; Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." I love the cover of the book, a picture of a Peanut Butter Jelly sandwich. I lived off of PB & J sandwiches through college and seminary; believe it or not, I still like to eat them. This memoir brings to mind Anne Lamott's writing about her own conversion and life; although they are not similar in the way they write. I am struck by how her faith has been sustained even through what has turned others off or away from Christianity. She gives us hope for what is real and can be real and living about Christianity and the church in the world.

There is much that can be discussed about this book and from this book. I invite you to do so in the comment section of the post. If you don't know where to begin here are some possible discussion ideas or you can use the ones in the reader's guide of the book. As I understand it Sara Miles is at some point going to join us in discussion as well. And some of you may have already written her with questions. The following are from the writer herself. I asked her what one question she had not been asked that she wished she was asked since she has already been interviewed a lot; and this is what she wrote;

"I'm not sure I have just one question I've been burning to be asked. But here are some thoughts about areas I know provoke a lot of debate and discussion.

* One is open communion: specifically, why offer open communion? Often church people seem to think that open communion is sort of about manners-- let's allow everyone to receive some wafers so we can be nice and not make anyone feel uncomfortable. I have a very different take on it, which I'd be glad to answer questions on.

* Similarly with gay marriage: I don't think it's a question of "rights" at all, or of justice. I think the argument for gay marriage is based in a theology and ecclesiology that sets God's kingdom apart from the powers and principalities of the world. Would be glad to talk about this.

* Another specific question I'd love to be asked: what are the two main principles that set your food pantry apart from many church feeding programs?

* Some of the group may want to ask about ordination, etc....why I preach, teach, feed, heal, and pastor a congregation, but haven't pursued ordination."

So the table is ready and open for discussion. I have some virtual PB&J to share as we sit around the table and discuss.


  1. I would like to say that even though I will miss this discussion,(since I am traveling to the Festival of Homiletics today) this book is in the the bag I'm taking on the plane. I've been enjoying it very much as I've read about the first half, savoring every morsel!

    Once I've landed and settled in MSP, I look forward to peeking in on the discussion.

  2. Sara,
    Your book is both compelling and uncomfortable. Compelling because your journey can't be read in serial installments that are easily put down and picked up again. Uncomfortable because you remind me forcefully of my own understanding of Jesus' command to love one another and the ways I do not do that.
    While I have argued for gay/lesbian union/marriage, I have never read anything that convinced me of its necessity as your telling of your own marriage (hooray for the court's recent decision, btw). I don't know how any deputy to General Convention can not be moved by what you wrote and compelled to act upon it; however, I don't think we will in 2009.
    I also applaud you for not being ordained. My sense is that you haven't been called to that particular ministry, that God is quite happy encouraging you to expand your current ministries. Your example of active lay ministry (I know we are trying to get away from "lay" but I haven't another word to use in it's place) is one I will share with my congregation as I encourage them to expand their own ministries.
    You ran up against the "don't make us change or uncomfortable" syndrome rather forcefully. I checked the website and found no mention of the Sunday distribution. Could you talk about why that isn't happening? And also about your struggle with the legitimacy of the then Sunday afternoon practices and your own belief that the food distribution was more important. Did a compromise take place?
    Thank you for writing this book. You have expanded my horizons in many ways including a better understanding of the importance of St. Gregory's liturgical ministry.

  3. I get asked quite a bit by my unchurched friends why I -- a commissioned lay minister, but someone who at this time has no interest in the ordained ministry -- don't want to "go for it" and go to seminary for an MDiv. In a world where the assumption is that vocation means progression up various levels on various professional ladders, it's difficult to articulate to someone a different, non-hierarchical and perhaps more literal, understanding of [i]vocation[/i] as the place to where one is called by God to be at any given time. But I'd like to hear the author's take on this.

  4. As one who interned during seminary at a church with a food pantry, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the openness of the pantry, though of course we read about the struggles that come with that also - people lining up in advance, tons of people on the property, worrying about running out of food.

    And yet, I really struggled with the strict guidelines the food pantry at internship church had - no more than four visits a year, had to present form of id and fill out paperwork, had to have referral from some sort of social service agency, etc.

  5. I recently finished reading this book. I will not be so available as I will be at the Festival of Homiletics, but I don't have to travel far to get there :).

    I really loved this book; as a life-long Lutheran I'm fascinated by conversion stories. But it's more than that. It's the passion for reaching out in so many ways, and offering God's banquet.

    re: food shelves. We had one in my internship congregation. We did have to interview people. We gave out both government commodities and other donated food. I found out that we had limitations because of the rules for receiving the government food. and when I interviewed people, I did find out what were some of the realities of their lives.

    I like how some of those "served" became servers as well.

  6. Cheesehead and all who are traveling, have safe travels, learn a lot and enjoy the rgbp's get together. Thanks for writing something before you left.

  7. I really enjoyed this book, and as one who was surprise-converted myself (but found that only part of my calling to ordained ministry) I really resonated with a lot of the stuff in here. I love the language of "being bread" for the world. I love the passion Sara exhibits for this ministry. I understand the weirdness of using churchy language and of weirding out (and sometimes alienating) friends and family with this new passion. I am so impressed with the way Sara was able to maintain relationships through this change--wow!

    RE the communion question: my congregation practices open communion as well, with the words "whoever you are, wherever you've been on life's journey, you are welcome at this table." It's a really important part of our ministry and has meant a lot to people who have been excluded before. We are very intentional about being open and welcoming to all, and this is our primary symbol of that. We often talk about worship as practice--we come and practice what hospitality is like so we can go out into the world and offer true hospitality to others. We come and practice what praise is like so we can go out into the world to praise. We come and practice what real community, full of different people and different backgrounds and different opinions, is like so we can go out and build real community in the world. Communion is at the center of all of those things for us, even though we are once-a-monthers.

    Thanks for this book, sara. I look forward to the discussion throughout the day!

  8. I'm looking forward to the discussion, too, though I haven't finished reading the book. Just got it on Friday and am eating it up! ;) My almost 4 y.o. twin sons have been wanting me to read it to them because it has a picture of their favorite sandwich on the front.

    Sara, I'd be really interested in reading your answers to thhe questions you yourself have mentioned, particularly the ones about gay marriage and about what two principles set your food pantry ministry apart from other church feeding programs.

  9. Juniper, that is funny, my kids wanted to read it too.

    So far you all have liked the book and have questions for Sara about some of her thoughts.

    What didn't you like about the book? Or maybe were challenged by? What would you have liked her to say or deal with?

    How do you feel about Open Communion? Laity involvement in the church as she is involved? What are the two principles behind your food banks? food pantries? Her question and thoughts on Gay marriages?

  10. Here is a This I Believe essay with Sara Miles on NPR.

  11. Whoops, I meant earthchick, not juniper. Sorry.

    And Ann thanks for the link.

  12. Sara also had a column featured on Salon the other day: A band of gold.

  13. Halfway through the book, and grateful for it. I am struck by a couple of things: Reading this comes as my clergy husband's church is wrangling with food being "stolen" from the food pantry. My reply is: "Yes, and....?" And I am also reminded of a story I heard Rodger Nishioka, on faculty at Columbia Seminary, tell recently about how he, a Japanese-American, became a Presbyterian. It had to do with his grandmother being given a sandwich (I think it was PB&J) by a Presbyterian church group as she waited for train transport to an interment camp. Years later, she gave her blessing to Rodger to attend a church camp/school/meeting (something) because she remembered being fed.
    I haven't really gotten to all the issues presented in the book yet, but am wild about the picture in my head of St. Gregory's liturgy and architecture, and the font outside the walls, past the table. And Sara being baptized and beginning such a transformative ministry in the same week. Baptized to serve. Am looking forward to finishing the book.

  14. I am off to bed now - (darn time zones) hope to be able to contribute tomorrow

    just want to say thanks for writing the book - and abi for hosting this :)

  15. I am an Episcopal Priest who supports open communion. I find that parishioners (and Bishops) often do not...which means a lot of teaching about hospitality and generosity and, of course, Jesus. But I like to teach and I like to bring in teachers to help the parish grow in depth and breadth.

    Also, I am intrigued by the placement of the font and the idea that when it is placed in the entrance of the church it is a "roadblock" to the table. I have always prefered to place the font at the entrance so that people coming and going are reminded of what we say in baptism: to respect, to care for, to share, etc. with God's help. The font reminds me that I live a faith that requires me to take action...I've never thought of it as blocking the way to the table...

    so, again, I guess it's all about how we understand the symbols we use and what we intend them to mean for us. Of course an argument for placing the font in the center of our courtyard could also be made with the above ideas....

    I have been in favor of marriage for all people. I think that the church and the state need honor all people and their desire to live in covenented relationships - for all couples to be able to make vows to one another and have God, through the church (ie tradition), honor those vows. It is also a cause of justice for me, having watched two friends wrestle with end of life issues, hospital policy, and parents who had other ideas of what to do than what the couple wanted for one another. At some point in time parents really do not (necessarily) know what their grown children desire at end of life, partners and spouses (hopefully) do.

    In the priesthood of all the baptized - there is no need for ordination to be the ultimate statement of ministry and vocation. Some of us consider the ministry of the non-ordained, or laity, or the faithful (baptised or otherwise) is the ministry of highest order...anyone ordained will acknowledge that with ordination comes limitations on what one can do or not....therefore I do not consider ordination to be better than, just another kind of vocation.

    I am about half way through the book, enjoying it even as it makes me uncomfortable (in a good way)....and thinking this is a book to have my entire parish read as we ponder our tendency to hoard rather than be generous....

    Thanks!!! looking forward to more.

  16. I am QUICKLY popping in here during a day of travelling. I hope to be back to this space tonight for more and more of the discussion.

    This book has changed my life, and I don't mean maybe. Like Sara, I am an Episcopalian. Very unlike her, I'm in one of the more conservative dioceses in the country. Episcopal rubrics tend to require that one be baptised (at least in their own tradition) before taking communion.

    I have wondered much about this over the years, and reading this book turned over my thinking completely in this area.

    Interestingly, this weekend I visited at my parents' Anglican church (they have left the Episcopal church because of...a bunch of stuff). The Sunday school topic was Holy Communion. Hummmm. This book was brought up by Mom and me. I was grateful that the Canon leading the discussion was not wholly dismissive. He said: "The Holy Spirit works outside the camp all the time." This says to me...we need a bigger camp. That more people can get into. Right!?

    I'm outreach coordinator for my parish's vestry and of course the first thing I wanted to do after reading this was to start up a food pantry. Having been involved in this a little bit in my former parish, I also wanted to run away screaming.

    I'm not sure that's the ministry we are called to, but this book did shine a clear light for me in this wise: we do missions in Africa, Navajoland, etc.... but what are we doing in Lewisville, Texas and environs? Our youth are doing awesome things....time for the rest of us to look up I think.

  17. MaryBeth--the first thing I wanted to do partway through this book was start a food pantry too! Sara has a lot of passion and is good at communicating that passion.

    We don't run food or shelter ministries at our church, though we are founding members and weekly volunteers at our town's food pantry. Instead we make the meals two-four times a month for the homeless shelter that operates October-May in our county. It's not much, but people really get into it and we are now trying to figure out ways to be more involved in that, including possibly finding ways to have a shelter during the summer months. I am hopeful that we can be more involved in this area, especially after reading this book! I'm contemplating asking the mission team to read it, and then maybe planning an adult education series around it as well. Maybe if everyone who reads it wants to start a food pantry, having my church read it is a good first step!

  18. I'm about halfway through, and I find myself singing an old song from my childhood:

    Take this bread, we ask You
    Take our lives, we love You
    Take our hearts, O Father
    We are Yours. We are Yours.

    Scenes resonate with me: working in restaurant kitchens, baking bread, receiving bread (honey wheat, especially), wrestling with who receives what attention, how much, and the mistaken identity of who I/you are. Where this is all going, I don't know, but I'm eager to find out.

  19. I'm just checking back in. I haven't gotten any further in the book today, but one of the things I keep thinking about is how elemental bread is, and how sacramental it is for Christians, and yet in our current culture there is so much bread-phobia when it comes to health and weight issues. Bread has historically been seen as the "staff of life." It is also for so many (including me) a source of real comfort and can provide a sense of nourishment that goes beyond physical. What does it say about us as a culture that so many of us are now swearing it off?

  20. I meant to click the little thing to get email follow-ups, so I'm doing that now (that's why this spare comment).

  21. Only I forgot to do it that time.

    *bangs forehead on desk*

  22. I found the baptismal font thing interesting. As a UCC pastor I practice open communion; I definitely don't question anyone before allowing the elements to be given to them, and I can't imagine that the Deacons involved would avoid giving them to anyone, although I also imagine most believe there is a tacit understanding that you need to be baptized first. But we live in an era when the tacit understandings of history are at best forgotten and at worst irrelevant. So who do we invite to the table?
    I never think now of the font as a barrier, though it was in my childhood church (Southern Baptist), where I once had my hand slapped away from the plate by another little girl who knew better. Funny that I have been able to leave that experience so far behind that I was surprised to read Miles' thoughts!
    It's my habit to move the font to the center when there is a baptism, to represent the baptized person being welcomed by the faith community. I believe we are acknowledging something that is already true: that the one being baptized is a beloved child of God. I guess I have a far more open attitude than the church of my childhood; good to be reminded of that!

  23. Sara, let me join in the chorus and say I LOVED this book....even as it made me uncomfortable. I just selected this for the church to give as a graduation gift for our associate minister. She is moving us toward hospitality with a great deal of intentionality, and I knew she would appreciate your model and example. It did strike me that you are someone who is perhaps called to serve and speak from the margins--and that to be ordained might be to give up that space. I was tempted to move in the "open up the food pantry" direction as I read, but the central message that kept knocking was this sense that God will speak clearly to me about my calling, that God will equip me, and that somehow I will fumble my way through--and hopefully to some good end. I loved, Sara, that you didn't present yourself as a master--as someone to emulate or idolize. You are just following the messages as you receive them, and your acts are as much about nourishing yourself, your volunteers, your congregation as it is about the community around you. The meals for the volunteers were so incredibly lovely....I was reminded again that Jesus had room for parties and indulgence and celebration, and even rest.... Can't wait to hear your thoughts! Truly, I loved the book. Thank you for being--thank you for writing.

  24. Songbird, has shared her memories about communion and the baptismal that has been either open and inviting or closed and exclusive. Who else is willing to share theirs that may have been provoked by this book?

    Where is the font placed in your church? What theology is present by that?

    I thought about that we practice open communion as Methodists, and I believe it. Yet, I am not quite so sure the laity buy it.

  25. Umm, Blogger did its usual and has not allowed Sara to post her comments. So here we go with what she sent me to post;

    Dear Friends, thank you so much for your's a wonderful thing for a writer to actually hear from her readers. And it means a lot to me to hear from others who are living out this work, in all its joys and struggles.
    So, a couple of responses:

    1) About ordination. A couple months ago I was at a conference of emerging church people, where a guy referred to me as an "illegal priest," and I said absolutely not: I am an extremely legal layperson. When I got baptized I promised to continue in the apostles' teaching & fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.

    I respect all the good reasons--some of the Spirit, some to deal with church bureaucracies, some because of professional interest in the church as an institution, some because of a profound sense of vocation, some because you need a job with a pension--that drive people to seek Holy Orders. But there's nothing about feeding, healing, praying and teaching that, for me, at this point, pushes me in that direction. I want to keep doing the work: if I needed to get ordained to do it, I would.

    2) About pantries. The two essential Christian principles that guide us are:
    * Jesus welcomes everyone to his Table, so we offer communion to everyone, without exception.
    * The church is run by the whole people of God.

    Those mean that our food pantries are open to everyone, without exception. (I like what Dorothy Day said about the importance of feeding the undeserving.)
    I understand that people think they need to set up "intake" procedures. But look closely--often these are much less strict than we make them, purely out of habit. (For example, to get USDA food all you have to do is print up a sheet of paper that says, "By signing below I certify that I am living in a low-income household" and ask people to sign as they come in.) My own belief is that people model their food pantries on the way they do church. If their church is clericalized, communion is carefully guarded by altar rails and rules about who can touch what, and there are barriers (like baptism, age, or membership) to communion, then their pantries will also tend to impose rules about who deserves food, who belongs, who can offer food, etc.
    Which leads to the second value: our pantry is run almost entirely by people who came to get food and stayed to help out. This has a couple of obvious benefits--for example, it's been really good for middleclass church people to be bossed around by people with no teeth. It's been really good for poor people to be in a position where they have something to give. It's good for all of us to have shared work, so that we can understand ourselves as one people, an "interpenetrated indwelling" (oops, I know Trinity Sunday just passed, that was something left over from yesterday's meditation...) This, to me, is what the Kingdom looks like: not one group of people being nice to the outsiders, but all of us understanding ourselves as bound up, eternally, as pieces of the same body.

    3) Which is sort of the same thing as gay marriage. In my tradition, marriage is "a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world." It's not a private experience, or a Barbie-doll fantasy of romance: it is an icon of God's love. It is an opportunity for us to glimpse Creation in its totality, instead of screening out the parts we don't personally like.

    Of course I want the state to practice equality for all its citizens, and I support civil marriage, as a civil right, for everyone. But I don't think churches should follow the state--
    in fact, in my Diocese, I argue that priests should not sign civil marriage licenses for anyone, gay or straight. I think the sacramental rite of marriage is not just for the two people involved, but is a blessing for the whole community. And the bigger, and less ruled by the Law, and less boundaried that blessing is, the more it resembles the wildness of God's grace, and allows us to see how huge Creation really is.

    OK, will pause now to go do some grocery shopping. Look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thank you all--Sara

  26. I am Baptist - we don't have fonts. We have baptismal pools. In the church I currently serve, the baptistry is actually hidden under the floor of the chancel. On the days we baptize, we move the altar (which we actually don't even call an altar) and open the floor, and fill the pool with water (before the service), and wade in. On the one hand, it seems strange that the baptistry is pretty much out of sight all the time except on the very few occasions when someone is being baptized. OTOH, it's kind of cool to know that it is always there, underneath our feet, sort of below our rational consciousness.

    In my former congregation, we worshipped first in a Presbyterian church building and then in a converted hardware store, and we didn't have a baptistry at all. So the first baptism I ever performed was in a lake - and it was AWESOME. To see the entire congregation standing on the shore, and to hear them singing as we headed back out of the water, was just like a little foretaste of heaven. Nevermind that I had to actually get down on my knees to do the baptism because the lake was a bit shallow after a drought.

    In my current church's early history (early 1800s), they did their baptizing in the Huron River. One Sunday word got out around town that the Baptists would be baptizing, and about 200 people came to gawk. But the bridge they were standing on collapsed, and they all fell in the river (no one was hurt). To this day, we still laugh about all the people who got unintentionally baptized that day. There's even a painting of this episode hanging in our church library. It's representative of our theology - we are all in, ready or not.

  27. Earthchick,

    I attended a church constructed like yours when I was a kid -- except that the pool was under the pulpit.

    Moisture worked it's magic over the years and one Sunday (I wasn't there drat!) they had a particularly rambunctious preacher, who was a thumper and stamper ... and the floor gave way and he and the pulpit dropped all the way into the pool.

    I've enjoyed this book -- it's give me (pardon the pun) lots of food for thought. I am feeling more and more that as we remove communion from the dinner table, we are really missing out. Sarah's book is helping me shape a vision of what I want church to really be. Thank you.

  28. Abi, thanks for posting for Sara!
    And Sara, thanks so much for joining us.
    I very much agree with your thoughts on marriage. I would much prefer if couples did the civil part of marriage at City Hall and then came to their own churches for the community's blessing. Churches as wedding halls and pastors as agents of the state make no sense to me.

  29. Sara,
    I just finished reading this very moving book - makes me want to start a food pantry! (and ideas around this are churning). I do wonder where St. Gregory is with the pantry now - where do you envision this going in the next 5 years? Have other churches taken this model and brought it to their church community and made it their own?

  30. Sara, thank you for being here, and for posting through revabi!

    I'd like to know how you avoid getting jaded in your ministry. I apologize if you address this in the latter parts of your book - I'm not there yet. In principle, I appreciate the idea you articulate above from Dorothy Day - the importance of feeding the undeserving. On the practical level, though, I find that the nature of this kind of work takes an emotional and sometimes spiritual toll, and I'd love to know how you deal with that.

    Our church doesn't have a food pantry, but we do have a feeding ministry (a weekly dinner followed by a time of worship and fellowship - participating in worship is voluntary, receiving the dinner is not contingent upon coming to worship). In addition to this we have a ministry of hospitality - we open our space to homeless people, allowing them to "hang out" in our building and on our grounds during the day and to sleep at night in a pavilion we recently constructed on our grounds. Because there are already many agencies that deal with the homeless in our community (Ann Arbor, Michigan), and because they are vigorous in their screening, the people who come our way are the ones who have fallen through the cracks. They have been turned away from these other places because of violence, drug use, or other off-limits behavior.

    I find myself growing a bit hardened over time (this may be true in my general ministry as well, now that I think of it, and not only in dealing with these specific ministries). The guys who hang out in our pavilion sometimes cuss at passersby. One of our teenagers recently saw them urinating right in front of the church. We get calls of complaint from the therapists who work in the building next door because of yelling and fighting going on in the pavilion. One of our sextons had to put out a fire that two of them started when they were drunk. Another church member had to break up a fight that involved throwing bricks! A number of these guys have started coming to worship with us on Sundays, which is thrilling. But some of them show up drunk and get loud and almost violent during worship - which is not thrilling.

    It wears on my spirit, and I'm not even on the front lines of this particular ministry right now. How do you deal with your own less-than-ideal feelings about the people you are ministering to and with? How do you keep yourself from drawing lines, when sometimes lines seem so ... called for?

  31. Each time I've come to this discussion today I've read the comments with tears in my eyes. It hits me on very deep levels. Forgive me; I'm not sure I'm being very coherent...

    On the font placement...again, you know where I worship, and our font is at the door, with the symbolism clear: this first, then communion. Font is continuously running water and those who wish may use it to bless themselves as they enter and leave the church on a weekly basis, so it is part of our liturgical lives on a regular basis...beyond baptism you might say.

    Front page of our bulletin says "we do not practice a closed communion, that is, if you have been baptised in your own church and believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior you are welcome to worship here."

    Well, okay, so we don't believe in a closed communion...but we don't believe in a really open one, either, right?!

    When I was a little girl (6 or so) we moved churches and I reached for communion (it somehow felt ok to do it there) and my mother slapped my hands away. That felt really bad. I complained to her later; she talked to rector of the new church; he said if we kids really understood what it meant, we could receive. That was a departure from tradition and, I think, part of the reason we stayed at that church.

    I have more to think about this.

    The gay marriage thing...YES. This issue has grieved me greatly, the cruelty of our church AND government to these brothers and sisters.

    Sara says, "In my tradition, marriage is "a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world." It's not a private experience, or a Barbie-doll fantasy of romance: it is an icon of God's love. It is an opportunity for us to glimpse Creation in its totality, instead of screening out the parts we don't personally like."

    So fabulously put. Approaching my 9th year of marriage. How could we presume to deny this opportunity for joyous partnership?

    Re: ordination and non-ordination: I have so much to do in my lay life (part of which is supporting RevGals) that I will never get it all done...I do not need to be ordained.

    And I truly believe I am freer to speak out and perhaps effect change within my denomination as a layperson. Oh, and did I mention that I've NEVER felt a call to ordination? So that all works out well.

  32. Sara, I was not surprised by the fact that people kept coming to St. Gregory's on Fridays and, while your two principles are part of the reason, the greater reasons are the community that has formed - no matter how contentious it is at times - and the non-food feeding that happens. I think whaat made this ministry so compelling to many of us - okay I'll speak for myself only - is all the extra stuff you all do. My parish does lunch at the Salvation Army once a month. We are not to do anything "religious" there as the SA has that covered and we don't eat lunch with the folks because we were told it makes them uncomfortable, something I intend to challenge soon. Even still, the person who was chef this month told me tonight that one of our regulars told her how much they look forward to our coming because we cook out of the ordinary meals and because we behave as if we are genuinely glad to be there with them.
    You all do that too. You are genuinely glad to be there and the response of your patrons is to ask you for more. For prayer, for counseling, for a shoulder to cry on or just an ear to listen. You feed the whole person. Thank you for telling us that is possible.

  33. I want to post one last comment before signing off for the night. In my church (American Baptist), our actual practice is open communion. But that is somewhat different from what we teach, which is that communion is for the baptized. Since our tradition was founded on the principle of believer's baptism (i.e., a person has to choose baptism for him/herself), this has meant that children do not typically receive communion. (We leave it up to the families, though, and we do not refuse communion to anyone - including the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists who regularly worship with us).

    In reading this book, I have been reflecting on my own feelings about children receiving communion. It's weird - I feel totally open about pretty much anyone else receiving communion, and then I come up against this wall in my thinking when it comes to children, and I know it goes deep into my understanding of baptism and discipleship. Sara speaks of her own conversion (and, I think, theology) being grounded first and foremost in gratitude. I love this. But I think my own theology around baptism and, by extension, communion, is centered on an understanding of discipleship as risk and suffering. Because of this, I have believed that baptism and communion both are reserved for those who are old enough to "choose" it for themselves (I use this word with some reservation, knowing that there is a limit to the whole concept of human choice, esp. when the grace of divine initiative comes into play). Part of what is central to my idea of communion is that we are drinking the cup of Christ's suffering, just as when we are baptized we are being baptized into his death - choosing to walk a way that will mean suffering and death (and, of course, new life). I struggle with the implications of a child drinking the cup of suffering without having any understanding of what it means to share in that suffering.

    In my tradition, though, we do not have a sacramental theology (which puts me at some odds with my own tradition as I grow into more and more of a sacramental understanding). So the notion that God is doing a work of grace through the table, and that it is not first of all about our choice to share in Christ's death, but about hungry people getting fed - that is a little bit of a different angle from what I grew up with. I carry a tension in myself, I guess, between the sacramental view and the view that communion is a choice to share in the risky work of being his disciples.

    When I was 13, not long after I was baptized and began receiving communion, I told my dad one day that I loved it when we had Communion Sunday at our church (we only observed it every few months!. My dad asked me why, and I fumbled to articulate, because I didn't really know. Finally I said, "Because sometimes I get hungry." He sort of frowned at me, which made me realize that was the wrong answer.

    This book is making me see again how right my 13 year-old self was.

  34. I'm only halfway through this wonderful book, but it has inspired me on my church search (alliteration or rhyme? I think so!) to go to an Episcopal Church this past Sunday. Nothing like St. Gregory, alas. I won't read the rest of the comments until I finish as they seem to have spoilers.

  35. The following is again from Sara Miles, It came in after I had gone to bed, so I am posting it this morning.

    Dear Friends,
    Thank you all for this discussion- it is so meaningful to have it with you.
    A couple quick things:

    1) earthchick writes about children and communion and baptism, saying that by being baptized "we are being baptized into his death - choosing to walk a way that will mean suffering and death (and, of course, new life). I struggle with the implications of a child drinking the cup of suffering without having any understanding of what it means to share in that suffering."
    But of course children suffer without choosing all the time. Children experience the fullness of life, in its unbearable grief and its joys, not because they choose to, but because they're alive and human. And as much as I would have liked to spare my daughter every possible hurt, the pain and suffering she experienced during her childhood was not always up to me (or up to a worshipping community.) I think that what a family, a church, a community, and the people of God can do for our children is to give them tools for understanding and contextualizing their sufferings.

    2) I love the idea of the baptismal font being underneath our consciousness. I think there are lots of different ways to embody our theologies through architecture and liturgy. All I wanted to say about St. Gregory's way (the font outside instead of underneath or at the door) was that I think we need to take special care about how the signs we make might read to strangers-- unchurched people, outsiders, foreigners--not just what they mean to people who are already inside the club, who understand the language.

    3) About rude, hostile, violent, urinating, disrespectful,drunk, drug-addicted, crazy people who come to food pantries: that is so true. But you know, even the Gentiles are nice to their families. The point is how we treat people who are not deserving: who are tax collectors, or unclean, or Samaritans, or dishonest. And the point is what we learn from these people -- what the sinner has to teach us about ourselves. I know that my own ability to forgive myself for all my screw-ups has a lot to do with being forced to rub up against "difficult" people. (And, perhaps not surprisingly to those of you who are professional clergy-- the people who irritate me the most, day to day, are not the incontinent drunks, but the longtime members of the congregation who make big pledges.) Still, it's not about my own likes or dislikes. The Spirit has something to give through every one of us-- and not always when we behave well.

    4) About what keeps me from burning out: actually, I DO burn out, over and over, and then over and over I get refreshed. I'm constantly irritated, fed up, exhausted, sick of people, sick of myself. But there is something so alive in that bread. In that living water.

    I'm working this summer with some doctors and nurses on how not to burn out when dealing with chronically sick, addicted, difficult patients. They came to me because the medical model ("fixing" people, or solving problems) wasn't enough for them. I think what we as Christians have to offer is a God who doesn't erase suffering, but who promises to be with us in suffering. Who heals people even though they aren't "cured." Who is visible even in the dark.

    I'm all for self-care, and boundaries, and saying no to impossible and whiny people. I'm all for recognizing the signs of burnout and taking a day off, and getting a pedicure, and refusing to answer the phone. I just also believe that real life is worth so much more than an airbrushed fantasy of a happy ending. Real life, including the reality of my own failures, is so much richer than the fantasy of myself as a magic minister who can fix the problems of the world.

    Life, abundant. That's what I'm hungry for.


  36. Okay, Here is my proposal for a Big Event mission trip. We go to San Fran to St Gregory's to be with Sara, work the food bank. Tour San Fran. Go to some of the other churches that are doing some different kinds of ministries, worship.

    Does the Festival of Homiletics meet out there? Any other workshops out there?

    It just seems like there is a lot more going on out there.

    As one reviewer wrote; "Where is it written that literary women must move to coastal California (if they don't already live there), become Episcopalians and write conversion memoirs?"

  37. I echo a lot of the thoughts already shared -- as I also really enjoyed the book and thought it affirmed some of my own thoughts.

    Sara, I thought it was particularly powerful how you understood the covenant of baptism in your life. Many of our churches (across denominations) are celebrating Confirmation which remembers the baptismal vows. I've never heard of a lay person dive so intentionally and prayerfully into that vow. I'm trying to figure out how I can share this with others -- as the common assumption seems to be the only way to pursue a spiritual path is to become ordained.

    For me, the feeding program and the open table are a question of justice. I loved that you celebrated the individuals that gathered. They were not the poor or the church people (most of the time) -- they had stories and complicated histories. Your ministry recognized their humanity. And though this is a conversation I continue to offer in our ministry to 'the poor,' I think we have a long way to go in thinking of 'the poor' as equals.

  38. Re open Communion: Our congregation, for many years, celebrated a kind of semi-open Communion...our little foot in the door was the verbiage, "We invite all baptized believers who understand Christ to be truly present in the bread and wine to our table." (Verbiage that was actually enshrined in our congregation's constitution.) We then invited persons who didn't fit that profile to "come up through the line anyway for a greeting and blessing." We've struggled with the tension between welcome/inclusivity and the desire to help people know where we're coming from theologically and sacramentally as Lutheran Christians.

    We have lately changed our invitation somewhat. Our pastor starts out with a short-form review of how Lutherans understand the Sacrament of the Altar and the Real Presence. He then says something like, "If your understand is like ours, OR if you commune at your home church and desire to do here as well, OR if you simply feel moved to join us in communing today, you are most welcome at our table. If you're not quite there yet, you are still welcome to come forward and receive a blessing and thanks for being part of our worship today." It's still somewhat awkward, but it's made the boundaries between "us" and "them" somewhat more transparent, I think. And what we find (in response to people who think that we're overwhelmed by clueless people rushing forward to "commune unworthily") is that many unchurched visitors shy away from even coming forward in line for a pastoral's a little much for them at the beginning.

  39. mom priest wrote

    I am an Episcopal Priest who supports open communion. I find that parishioners (and Bishops) often do not...which means a lot of teaching about hospitality and generosity and, of course, Jesus.

    and I wonder what she means by open communion. "I just wrote a thesis on it - though we many we are all one because we break the one bread" for some this means only those of the same denomination - for others all baptised Christians - and for others just any one - (including those of other faiths)

    I was slammed at my defence on the grounds that if we all believe different things when we take the bread - isnt that unity which is only superficial ... and hypocritical. I was floored. (and afterwards angry)

  40. -rev abi did you say worship - or shop in SF :)

    seriously I LOVE this idea "Okay, Here is my proposal for a Big Event mission trip. We go to San Fran to St Gregory's to be with Sara, work the food bank. Tour San Fran. Go to some of the other churches that are doing some different kinds of ministries, worship." and hope it comes to pass!

  41. Sara this comment is WONDERFUL

    it's been really good for middleclass church people to be bossed around by people with no teeth.

    thanks :)

  42. Lorna, Shop, Worship, tour, ride the trolley car whatever is BE to you.

    Lorna, Some people's minds are so closed...I am so angry for you being slammed.

  43. and earthchick - that more would reflect your 13 year old understanding

    "Because sometimes I get hungry."

    I too am hungry for more of Him in many many many ways :)

  44. OH Lorna....I'm so sorry this happened to you....I think it is very difficult to portray open communion to folks who NEED it to be about something definitive,(which as Sara points out so clearly, also ends up excluding people) other than the fact that we are feeding people. I offer open communion because I believe that people are on a journey of coming to God and we all need to feed in order to continue the journey. I offer open communion because I trust that when God is working in someone and brings them to the table I feed them. I offer open communion because I do not feel that I should be the one to judge anyone who comes for Jesus. I trust that God is working in them. I trust that they are responding in whatever way they are able and my job as priest is to offer them Jesus. The churches I serve tend to fall more into the place of thinking that baptism is a requirement for participation at the altar. I work to teach them that we are all on a continuum, or a spiral, a journey of faith, whether we know it or not. And we are called to honor that journey in the other person wherever they are. I believe that people do not come to our church and put out their hands by accident. I think the HS has something to do with it. I trust it to be so. When I begin to speak this way it tends to resonate with the people in my church, some of whom have left another church because of a divorce and the inability to receive or fully participate.

    Anyway...that is a longwinded explanation of a little bit of what I meant...I'd love to read your dissertation...I'm sure it was fabulous.

  45. My pastor has a great Communion story, from his stint doing campus ministry: He was celebrating the Eucharist one Sunday morning when a young man with Asian features approached the altar. When my pastor gave the man a wafer, the man just held it up to his face and stared at it in bewilderment, and my pastor realized that this guy had not a clue as to what was going on. He finally leaned over and whispered, "Just eat it -- I'll explain it to you later." It turned out that this person was a grad student from China who'd attached himself to one of the parish families who'd been picking someone up at the local airport -- before he'd left for the U.S. his friends said, "Find the Christians -- they'll take care of you," so he'd been wandering around the airport asking people if they were Christian and if he could go home with them.;-)

  46. Lutheran Chick,
    Now that is a great story, and that will preach.

  47. Joining in to:

    --thank Abi, Sara, Mompriest, Lorna and everyone for lovingly sharing their truth in this powerful conversation about a compelling book

    --share my children's absolute confidence in God's love for them, which has been marvelously fostered by their being welcomed at Christ's table from their earliest memories (Nicholas from age 3, when I changed from RC to Episcopalian on the way to my present Independent Catholic ministry, and Katie from infancy). The first time we visited a church where non-members of the denomination and young children were not offered the Eucharist Nicholas listened to my explanation of the policy in complete shock and whispered "That's mean!" Says it all.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.