But perhaps even more than smelling and eating that bread, I loved creating it. Kneading the dough, for example, was a soothing exercise. It gave me a few precious moments during often busy days to stop and simply breathe. Kneading gave me the opportunity to be present to the moment. The handful of simple ingredients that I gathered for my dough each week - flour, sugar, salt, oil, water, yeast – also reminded me that life, the good life, consisted of the most elemental of things - meaningful conversations, good friends, a hearty meal, and a warm loaf of bread. The task would eventually morph into a practice, indeed a spiritual discipline for me. It became a part of me.
This spiritual discipline would teach me much about the pastoral life as well for, like bread, the pastoral life requires some kneading too. By God’s grace, pastors help give shape to unformed spiritual lives. With his help we massage unformed and unfinished (lumpy) souls into something that more closely resembles Jesus. Through God’s power, we use the most basic, elemental, ordinary of things (thoughtful preaching, persistent prayer, faithful presence) to create something extraordinary: a God–shaped people. And finally, we learn that the end product takes time and patience. Helen’s sourdough bread starter required 2 ‘risings’ that took 4-8 hours each. Often, in my impatience, I’d set the dough in a warmed oven to hasten the process. But it isn’t a practice I recommend with people. Spiritual maturity takes time. Bread baking helped me to see and appreciate that. It helped me to slow down, enjoy the process, enjoy the beauty, of watching my bread rise – indeed of watching my people grow.
After bringing my bread to a special communion service one Sunday and discovering the euphoric reception it got, I began making a loaf every week. Honestly, I did so initially because I loved the accolades. There weren’t too many things I created in my kitchen that got rave reviews, but the bread did. But soon it became an act of pastoral care. Soon the bread became a part of my people too.
First, I noticed and reveled in the joy my parishioners experienced in the simple act of eating good and hearty bread Sunday after Sunday. We did away with the dry tasteless wafers we had been using and ate this yeasty, sweet loaf with abandon. Yes, we knew that some within our tradition insist on unleavened elements whenever communion is observed. And we’d abide by that rule during certain days and seasons of the year. But by and large, we began to embrace this ‘everyday’ yeasty bread as our main sustenance at communion for it was this bread that most closely mirrored the bread that would bookend our lunch sandwiches or the bread that would be offered to us at the table of most restaurants or homes where we’d share a meal during any given week. In sum, this hearty, yeasty bread was what our bodies craved. Indeed it was what our souls craved for it reminded us of the Lord’s presence with us throughout the week and not just at the communion table. Give us this day our daily bread…..
At the end of each service, I remember with joy how my people, especially our kids, would clamber up to the communion table to finish off the loaf. Several of our altar cloths were dotted with angry purple stains from kids (and others!) clumsily dipping the last remnants of the bread into the cup and lustily eating it till every morsel was gone. But the marred altar cloths became a symbol of the pure delight we all took in the meal and it was good.
How to describe what joy filled my soul when I saw everyone gathering around that communion table even after the service, their physical hunger (at that near-lunch hour) a mirror of their spiritual hunger, and my own as well. But it was a hunger satisfied in that moment with that sacred sacrament. It was a hunger satisfied with bread that not only filled the stomach but also the soul. This bread would become a part of me. It would become a part of my people too. I miss baking bread.
Rev. Dana Preusch serves as the Director for the Nazarene Theological Seminary Center for Pastoral Leadership. She holds a Master of Theology from Duke University and Master of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary. Dana served in local church ministry in Kansas, North Carolina and Tennessee for a total of 17 years before joining the Center for Pastoral Leadership in 2014.