When you become a community-oriented church, the needs of your neighborhood become your reality.
Jonathan Brooks, known as “Pastah J” at Canaan Community Church in Englewood, a Chicago neighborhood, is quick to say that his church is community oriented, not justice oriented. “Justice is the result of living in community with one another,” he says. Parishes often focus on big issues such as creating world peace. Instead, says Brooks, they should build up their own community.
Community is built around the table.
“What is your favorite Jesus story? And why?” A dozen women gave quick answers. I said, “Jesus grilling breakfast for the disciples. ‘Come and dine.’ It connects him with me, especially when I’m in the kitchen with a neighbor teen; ‘Nina’ comes over and we cook together, especially on Saturday mornings.”
What would Thomas Merton say?
At 10:00 a.m., Fr. Isaac Keeley pauses to pray. But this Trappist monk isn’t shuffling into a choir stall flanked by icons for his mid-morning ritual. The space where he and his brother monks gather doesn’t reek of incense, either. Instead there is another distinct smell wafting around: hops. Yes, a few of the monks of Spencer Abbey pray the “little hours” together in a brewery—their own brewery, no less.
“I don’t know what Thomas Merton would say about this!” Keeley laughs.
For community, trade a pew for a bar stool.
Saturdays in college are for friends and beer. Walk near any campus apartment or frat house after dark and you will hear the chorus of clinking bottles and crushing cans. Some packs of pals prefer to venture out to local bars, while others stay home and pound back a few cold ones over board games. During our senior year, brewery outings were my weekly ritual. My friend Emily and I toured a different brewery every Saturday afternoon. It was our regular time to relax, swap stories, and raise a glass to the week ahead.
What we eat is related to what we believe.
I suspect “Catholic” is not the first identity marker most people think of when they think of a vegetarian. Yet for many Catholics—myself included—a vegetarian or vegan diet is an integral part of our religious practice.
Darleen Pryds, a professor of Christian history and spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in Oceanside, California, says that being mindful about the food you eat can be a spiritual practice. “It’s a Franciscan approach to spirituality, focusing on poverty and simplicity,” she says. “For me, the very basis of that habit has always been food.”
Setting the table is about more than etiquette and proper manners.
As Agnes Meehan’s first granddaughter, I had the distinct honor of being selected to help her prepare for her annual Christmas Eve party when I was about 8 years old.
A close look at scripture shows the importance of food throughout human history.
The first meal ever recorded in the Bible was pretty sparse: a mythical piece of fruit. Today this would amount to a healthy snack. At the time, it was the most harmful bite imaginable. Of course, the story in Genesis 3 isn’t about eating so much as it is about hunger. We humans seem to be hungry all the time. We crave food and drink, sweet and salty flavors available to many of us at arm’s length. But we’re also hungry for the love and support of others, for attention and recognition.
A humanitarian crisis lurks in our modern food delivery system.
Strolling your supermarket aisles, you have one eye on your family’s food needs for the week and another on whatever bargains you may be able to pull off the shelf. You can be forgiven if, coupons in hand, you’re not worrying about avoiding food that includes hidden ingredients like, well, slavery. Sadly, in today’s interconnected food marketplace, compelled or uncompensated labor—even child slavery—provides a reliable competitive edge for many food exporters.
A nonprofit organization helps churches put down roots—both in the soil and the community.
Every week, hands plunge into the earth at St. Benedict the African East Catholic Church in Englewood, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Around five raised-bed plots and six container gardens church volunteers, police and fire department baseball league players, and various community members pull weeds, plant flowers, and get to know one another.
The “Garden of Eatin’ ” grows tomatoes, kale, peppers, eggplant, and salad greens. The congregation shares the crops and donates the excess to the local food pantry, says Susan Rashad, founder of the parish’s garden club.
Catholics with celiac disease struggle for inclusion in the church's one body.
My three teenage daughters and I sat on jackets on the sidewalk. We were part of a much larger human jigsaw puzzle, one that morphed every few minutes from sitting to standing to kneeling on the sandpapery concrete in front of a Subway in downtown Philadelphia.
We couldn’t see the altar except on the jumbotron, but no one hesitated saying the response: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”