How well do you know this kitchen? For instance, do you know how many ovens are in this kitchen? (Responses) Let’s see…
How many sinks are in this kitchen? (Responses)
What about this one?
And did you know that our kitchen here at UCT is the home of…
Tea kettle? Sing: I’m a little teapot…NOT!
How many dishwashers are in our UCT kitchen? (Responses)
Yeah, there’s this one. But looking out today, I’d say we have about 60 dishwashers. See you after the potluck!
Monday night, I attended the Community Action Committee’s meeting. Among the items discussed was UCT’s food ministry. I learned that, back in the day–before the Kearney Center was created–every third Sunday after church, UCT folks would gather in the kitchen, cook a meal, and take it to the shelter for the residents there. Once the Kearney Center was built, though, meals had to be prepared on site. Many people participated in preparing those meals, but as one person said, “It just wasn’t the same as preparing the meals here in our UCT kitchen.”
We have signed on to serve residents at Grace Mission on the fifth Sunday of the month. (Note: May has five Sundays. Get ready!) As we talked, someone mentioned the meal–and the dyed Easter eggs–that were taken to the folks at City Walk across the street the day before Easter. That led to an idea: Why not cook a meal for the folks at City Walk once a month–the third Sunday, like we used to do?
That’s when Jesus showed up. (Don’t you just love when Jesus shows up at committee meetings?) Somebody said: “I have something to say. God radiates out of the kitchen when we’re preparing a meal. When UCT is in the kitchen cooking, God is there.” Another person mentioned the issues City Walk is having with the city. Then they said, “Our job isn’t to get into the political hoopla. Our job is to feed the hungry.” “Yes!” the first person said. “Let’s feed our neighbors!”
You’ll be hearing more soon about how you can help with our efforts at feeding the hungry. Stay tuned.
I haven’t been here long, but here’s what I’ve learned about UCT–from that amazing Saturday morning brunch prepared by Charlotte Curtis, to the BOS meeting catered by Sonny’s my candidating weekend, to the world’s largest tea kettle, to the potluck after church today, to that amazing conversation Monday night–food is central to this congregation…and not just because we like to eat.
Food is central to this congregation because you–we–get it. All of us are hungry, right? Hungry for nourishment. Hungry for wellbeing. Hungry for community. Food not only meets our physical needs, but somehow, in food, God shows up…especially, when we eat together as a community.
When the CAC member said, “When we cook together in the UCT kitchen, God shows up…” I remembered Luke’s story about the walk to Emmaus. Two of Jesus’ disciples are headed home Easter night. As they walk, they’re still processing all that’s happened in Jerusalem…Jesus’ death, then the reports of his resurrection. A stranger joins them…asks them what they’re discussing. “Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s happened?” They tell Jesus the story, though they don’t yet see that it’s Jesus.
When they finish the story, Jesus reminds them of their own scriptures and of how what has happened in Jerusalem fulfilled what was in the scriptures.
When they arrive at their house in Emmaus, Jesus makes to move on, but the two invite Jesus to stay. It’s when they gather for a meal, when Jesus breaks the bread, that the disciples’ eyes are opened–JESUS! As soon as they recognize him, poof! He’s gone.
But for that moment, the moment they gathered at the table, the moment he broke the bread…yes. That’s when God showed up. Holy things happen when we prepare food and, especially, when we eat it together…or serve it to people who are truly hungry. Something happens. God shows up. Somehow, filling our stomachs opens our eyes.
I have a song to share with you. It’s one I wrote with a friend at songwriting camp in 2014. The camp was led by John McCutcheon at the Highlander Education and Research Center outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Highlander was created in the 1930s as a place to support groups that were trying to organize. The focus at first was helping coal miners in Appalachia. In the 50s, the focus shifted to offering support for workers in the Civil Rights Movement. Highlander is the place where Rosa Parks learned practices of nonviolent resistance. Highlander also is the place where “We Shall Overcome” became the anthem of the Movement. It was the tiniest bit daunting to try to write songs at the place that incubated “We Shall Overcome!”
One of our assignments was to find a partner and write a song for Highlander’s kitchen staff. When John dismissed us to go write, I bee-lined it to a woman who already had produced an album. I figured she could whip out a song lickety-split. I wasn’t proud. I was happy to ride her coattails. Trouble was, Katie had been planning to ride my coattails…which means that it took us a very looooooong time to write the song.
Rushing to finish the song before presenting it to the group, we wildly threw out ideas. We didn’t have a set melody yet because Katie—wonderful singer that she is—hadn’t sung it the same way twice. I did have some chords laid down—pretty much the only ones I can play…so those were set. We decided that she would sing and I would play. Then, two minutes before class, we realized we only had half a chorus. Yikes! Katie said, “Let’s just sing it twice!”
We rushed into class and—eager to do the song before we forgot it— volunteered to go first. We did. And discovered that—after all the angst—we liked the song. Whew!
The next day, four songwriting pairs from the group gave a mini-concert in the dining hall. We sang to an audience of two—cooks Betty, an older white woman, and Isis, an African American woman in her late 50s, early 60s. By the end of the last song—Katie’s and mine—Isis was in tears. Katie ran over and hugged her.
It was a humbling experience. What creative—and compassionate—foresight for John to suggest that we write songs for the kitchen staff! The kitchen staff in most conference centers isn’t even seen much less sung for. The assignment to write a song for the kitchen staff invited us to see, really see, the people who prepared our food. When Isis cried, we realized just how important it was for her to be seen. It also helped us see that anything we do—writing songs or anything else—anything we do is an opportunity to give to and see others.
We didn’t fully understand the impact our songs had on Isis until the next morning. When I walked into the dining hall for breakfast, Isis was–there’s no other word for it–preaching. “I don’t how many of you follow the Bible,” she said. “But in there it talks about how Saul was all crazy in his head and how David’s music soothed him. That’s what music does! It soothes us.”
I could tell that Isis was just getting started, so I asked a friend for some paper and a pen and began dictating. Isis said: “I’ve been cooking and cleaning since I was knee-high to doing something” When she said that, John leaned over and said, “Write that down. That’s good.” Isis had to leave school in sixth grade to care for her family. She never went back.
By the time she was 50, Isis had built up a lot of resentment about having to cook and clean her whole life. She bore that resentment until the 102 year old woman she’d been caring for said this: “Isis, you’re the best housekeeper and cook I’ve ever had. In fact, you’re what’s kept me alive the last 5 years. Listen, do you mind if I go on and die?” She knew Isis depended on the income and wanted to be sure she’d be okay if she no longer had the caretaking job.
Not long after that, the woman greeted Isis one morning by saying: “Today’s the day. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to do my crossword puzzle. I don’t even want to watch Judge Judy. I think today’s the day.” And indeed it was. Isis served lunch, the woman ate it, then quietly slipped away. Isis told us: “That woman helped me see that I’m very good at cooking and cleaning. Since then, I haven’t been resentful.”
Something happens in the kitchen, doesn’t it? Something happens when we cook together and eat together and serve the hungry together. Something profound, something holy happens…When we cook together, when we eat together, God shows up.
Song: “Feed Our Bodies, Feed Our Souls” by Kim Buchanan and Katie Oates
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2022