Bread Church – or Bread for the World as its properly called – is a new service that we started in September. We have only met twice but it is already a highlight of my month. It is very simple – we meet, we make bread, we talk, we laugh. When there is a pause in the baking process those of us who want to pray do so, and then we eat. We are gathered for 2-3 hours and we are a diverse bunch drawn from different faiths and none, different ages, ethnicities, classes and with a very varied level of ability in the kitchen. I have now definitely earnt a reputation as the cack-handed curate!
At a meeting about cohesion on Wednesday one of the issues raised was that although religion thought it was promoting cohesion it was actually dividing people. Alongside this, and partly as a consequence of this, there are very few places that all people can belong without either keeping some part of their identity hidden or without risking outright rejection. For example, many religious groups would exclude not only on the basis of creed but also on sexuality and for many, gender may be a barrier to full participation. Coffee shops/cafes subtly separate us by class and wealth, other centres and activities are only really open to certain ethnicities: for example, pubs and restaurants are often not comfortable place if you have dietary requirements or alcohol is prohibited. In Jerusalem in May I heard it said that the only two places you see co-existence are the zoo, and the hospital. I wonder how different Birmingham really is.
Bread Church meets in a building attached to the church and that might put some people off but looking round the room on Sunday I felt a twinge of delight as I saw people mixing that would not normally get to spend time together. There was so much laughter in the room, real conversations and very, very good food accompanying the chapatis and rotis we made.
At a study morning earlier today the speaker, Bishop Graham Tomlin, talked about some of the changes that the Reformation had wrought in the Church, 500 years ago. He said that there was a theological shift from a religion in which a person looked inwards and tried to accumulate enough points to get to heaven to a religion which turned the believer to being outward-focussed, facing God and neighbour, as Jesus commanded us to be.
I wonder if as a church we have recently begun to turn in, in that way. We have started to worry about what we need. We are anxious that not enough people are coming to church and there won’t be enough money to keep it all going. We want people to join us, become like and believe the same as us.
Bread Church was prompted by a conversation in which someone outside the church mentioned to our vicar (a fantastic baker) how much she would like to make bread. It was not started to meet our need for church growth or to bring in young people – although it is growing and young people come and enjoy it. It came about because the church was already turned outwards and engaging with neighbours from different faiths. Instead of asking what do we want, the church asked what would you like to do. Instead of worrying about what we need as church to survive, the church responded to the request from a neighbour.This shift has meant that people inside and outside church happily give up around three hours on a Sunday afternoon with enthusiasm and no sense of compulsion.
Bread for the World is not ‘the answer’ to the city and the church but it is a small contribution to the flourishing of life together, the growth of community and the establishment of middle ground. It makes me wonder if perhaps Bread Church and spaces and places like it are a ‘foretaste of the heavenly banquet.’