This morning, at the midweek 'class Mass' with children from Tredegarville School, I decided to talk about 'Stir Up' Sunday and preparing for Christmas. I didn't have enough to time to prepare visual aids, so I borrowed a pudding from the food stocks of Marisa, who manages the old peoples' day centre in St German's Church Hall on my way into church. She said she had thirty of them, in preparation for the series of Christmas dinners the day centre will be laying on over the next few weeks, for as many as a hundred people at a time. Just amazing!
It's impossible to remember the last time I addressed a group of children on the 'Stir Up' theme, so it's just as well I have nothing to recall to compare with what I did today. But I did have fun, asking the kids to think about the ingredients that make so tasty a pudding. Marisa's pudding was pre-packed in a plastic bowl suitable for boiling rather than in tinfoil (as we now do at home) or a traditional cloth bag. But, it was a suitably mysterious object around which to let the imagination weave a narrative.
Christmas pudding would be foreign to perhaps half of my audience, whose family origins were in Asia or Africa, although similar rich festive delicacies are made from dried fruit, nuts and rich fats all over the world. Finding out about the common elements would require a morning in a classroom or an after school session with families, rather than ten minutes in the middle of a service. It's great when families whose origins are far from our shores are given an opportunity to share their foods with the wider community. I know it happens in schools on special occasions. I remember this happening during my ministry in St Paul's Bristol, in Geneva, and recently during my month with the church in Malaga.
Talking about food we love to share in a faith context is something I greatly enjoy. It's wonderful to see churches all over the place rediscovering the value of food sharing and food culture as part of mission and evangelism through hospitality, communal meals and food banks, as well as festive celebrations. The mass industrialisation of food preparation and consumption during the 20th century made the task of feeding people daily less demanding of time and energy. All too often however, social and cultural dimensions of food were neglected, forgotten, divorced from relationships, contributing to the spiritual ailments of our time - chief among them, loneliness, identity loss, and (surprise surprise) eating disorders.
Part of the Church's recovery of confidence in the Gospel message it proclaims is reconnecting with its food culture, something our ancient spiritual mother, Judaism, never lost. There's no better way to enjoy the 'abundant life' which Jesus came to share with the world.