Bread of Life? Looking at Our Eucharistic Meals through an Environmental Lens

Rachel ShowsBy Rachel Shows, Staff Writer

Where does the bread on our altar tables come from? While the majority of Episcopalians probably don’t know the answer to this question, we do know where our bread for Holy Eucharist at this General Convention comes from. The flour was milled from organic heirloom wheat from the Bishop’s Ranch retreat center in Healdsburg, California. It was then stone ground into flour and baked in a local eatery here in Salt Lake City, one you might have already ventured to for breakfast – Eva’s Bakery. That stone-ground flour is from Staff of Life Flour, created by the Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff, agricultural chaplain and founder of the Farm to Altar Table project. In 2013, she did a study called Stories of Food and Farm Ministries. In it, she notes the differences between the wheat of Jesus’ time and our own time. She wrote, “It is important to know who harvested the wheat and tended the grapes, if pesticides were used, and how many miles the wheat and wine traveled to arrive at the altar. Sharing food is one of the central signs Jesus left for us, so concerns about food and farming are innately concerns of the Church.”

Elizabeth DeRuff

The Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff

Following the release of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on care for the Earth, more light has been shed on the issues surrounding climate change and creation care. We as a Church cannot separate our lives of faith from the Earth we live, breathe and thrive in. Our fifth Episcopal mark of mission is often overlooked. It reads that we are “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the Earth.” In the Episcopal Church, we talk freely about leaving the church building, going out into the world and serving the poor, but we don’t often consider how the environment might affect the poor; our less-fortunate neighbors and future generations will be most affected by climate change. Online resources shed light on new initiatives and how churches might act as better stewards of creation. Many churches and seminaries are already hard at work in this area. Sarah Nolan, farmer, lay leader and founder of the California farm church Abundant Table said,

“What [the Episcopal Faith, Food and Farm Network] want[s] to do is connect other people who are developing curriculum to each other. You don’t have to have a community garden, but you should be doing something with the food movement. Each community needs to discern, but all of us have a responsibility to be a part of addressing environmental and justice components.”

Faith Food and Farm NetworkNolan’s church farm began as a campus ministry. It has since expanded and also now provides a one- to two-year Episcopal Service Corps experience. It’s easy to forget those who provide the food we share in church, often low-paid workers beyond the Church’s sight. Nolan suggested a church might take Ash Wednesday “Ashes to Go” to farm workers, rather than to busy streets and metro stops, connecting the church with the farm workers who serve it. What we share in preaching and in coffee hour conversation is crucial. One speaker at the Environmental Stewardship and Care of Creation Committee hearing said, “We preach on the future as if nothing is happening…[and] preach as if people aren’t beginning to despair.”

It is vital for us to address the concerns about creation. As we look beyond this convention, let us remember that care for God’s creation begins with us, as leaders of the Church. And as caretakers of the Earth, we can start with our Eucharistic meal.

Here are a few Church resources to begin exploring:

Categories: GC78

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