Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Passion and a Project

My vocation centers around a table and one over which I am honored to preside. There were several moments that reinforced my calling, all of which occurred within the context of Holy Communion. The table draws me as it draws others to gather around and be fed by God, sharing food and drink that both remind and renew.
My outlet and other passion also centers around a table and one for which it is my honor to prepare food. Few things fill me with as much satisfaction as spending the day in the kitchen preparing a meal for family and friends. My favorite moments are sitting around a full table as people share stories, laugh, and connect over plates of food prepared in my kitchen with love. I sit back, look at the rosy cheeks and full bellies, and am reminded how rich my life is and how blessed.
After 5 years of serving in my current position as rector (priest) of a wonderful congregation, I started turning my mind to taking a sabbatical. Episcopal priests are able to take a sabbatical after 6 consecutive years of serving in a congregation. I have been a priest now for almost 12 years but this will be my first sabbatical.
Several priest friends have had amazing sabbatical experiences thanks to the Clergy Renewal Program funded by the Lily Foundation and administered by the Christian Theological Seminary. They award grants to churches for up to $50000 for their clergy to take sabbatical. Up to $15000 can be used by the congregation and the rest is to be used by the clergy to fund her or his sabbatical activities.
I knew I wanted to apply for this grant, but what should I do? How should we spend our 4 months away from the congregation? We knew we wanted to do something over the summer when my husband, D, and our three children, H, B, and W, would be out for summer break. I also knew I wanted to do something with my family. But what? This is a large world filled with amazing people and possible experiences.
Then I read the materials for the grant program and their guiding question "What makes your heart sing?". A beautiful question and a challenge. How would I condense the answer to this question into one project; one defined and articulated goal?
Thankfully, I didn't have to do this alone. I convened a Sabbatical Planning Committee made up of members of our congregation and they began praying and discerning with me. After much prayer and conversation, suggestions and vetoing, the committee helped D and I shape a project that would feed our passion and reflect "what makes our hearts sing":
Through The Kitchen Window: A Cooking Priest Project.
The joy I feel both presiding over the Eucharist at the altar on Sundays and presiding over my own kitchen throughout the week is a prayer: a prayer of thanksgiving; a prayer of hope; a prayer of intercession; and a prayer of love. I want to join with others in their kitchen, participating in their own meditation and prayer through cooking.
Over the next year I will be cooking with men and women of different religious traditions to hear how their time spent in the kitchen is a spiritual discipline and exercise. 
As I have started work on this project some incredible doors have opened and invitations been extended. So far I have plans to break the Ramadan fast with Pakistani Muslim friends, prepare food for Shavuot with a Jewish friend who is a caterer, spend time with women cooking in Navajoland, spend a week in the kitchens of New Orleans friends, and join a large African American family for a Southern Thanksgiving. And I even have a friend who only ever cooks when she is alone on retreat and can cook for herself. 
How do these friends and the others I will visit experience their time in the kitchen? How is it a time for meditation and contemplation? How is it an offering? How is it a prayer?
While I focus on the cooking and religious aspects of each experience, D will be looking at their historical, sociological, and anthropological significance. He is a self-proclaimed "history geek" and has found his calling as a high school history and literature teacher.
I am immensely grateful for the Lily Foundation in seeing the merit of this project and awarding our parish one of their grants for 2016. 
If you have ideas for people and places I should visit, please comment! And I love recommendations for books. I read cookbooks as though they were novels and never can seem to have too many.

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