Thanksgiving will not look exactly as it has in year’s past for us this year because of the ongoing health and safety concerns surrounding the pandemic. Perhaps that will be the case for others of you too. One thing that will be similar to years past, though, is a collection of foods that not only nourish our bodies but also our souls.
Food is a gift. Everyone should have it and yet we know that too many people do not. According to the organization Feeding America, 35 million people experienced hunger prior to the coronavirus pandemic. That number represents about half of the people who voted for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump in the most recent presidential election. We can surmise that the number has grown since the pandemic.
Food brings us together. Though we may be doing things differently right now, food has brought communities together throughout history and shaped the very nature of our being. Our religious traditions have very specific relationships with food and, in many cases, we continue centuries of tradition related to food in our worship and prayer practices today. Some believe those practices are salvific.
Every year at Oxford College, our Oxford Staff Organization (OSO) holds a fundraiser for our Chaplaincy Emergency Fund, a fund dedicated to helping those in our community experiencing a hardship or crisis. The fund has existed now for close to four decades and resembles discretionary funds that many faith communities have to support the community. Our fundraiser is a potluck lunch; the last one took place just before we had to move to remote learning and work in March. We had a baked potato bar, side dishes and desserts, many of which were favorites that members of our community contribute year after year.
This year, because we cannot currently safely gather for our usual potluck, the brilliant leaders of our OSO devised a plan for a digital and/or print cookbook. I love cookbooks, and we have some in our home from wonderful chefs from the Atlanta area, Rachael Ray, Moosewood and more. The best cookbooks, though, are the ones I have from churches where I knew the people submitting the recipes. Those recipes nourish our souls and not just our bodies, because they bring with them the stories and lived experiences of the people who offered them. This cookbook project at Oxford will nourish our bodies, souls, and make for an even stronger community by aiding those in crisis.
As we approach Thanksgiving, an important question might be, “What is nourishing me?” It has been a hard year, and we are still in the midst of so much – election division, heightened racial tension and injustice, COVID-19, and more. Taking a breath and a moment to think about what is nourishing us gives us the chance to practice gratitude.
Taking this moment helps us to be even more likely to think of something that nourishes us and has sustained us this year. This practice may also free us to think about the ways in which we nourish our neighbors. Maybe there are fences to mend. Maybe the way we have looked at the world needs to shift. Maybe our calling is shaking us out of our own privilege to contribute money and/or time to nourish others. If that is the case, I urge you to start locally, with the food ministry program at Covington First United Methodist Church for instance.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is a United Methodist minister and college chaplain who lives in Oxford.