the bread of gratitude
We haven’t been here a month, and already the Browns are leaving. This Sunday, Jon will preach his final sermon as pastor of First Reformed Oak Harbor.
On Tuesday night, at the consistory meeting, the president and the clerk of classis came with an “application for the dissolution of the pastoral relationship.” The clerk read it to us, its legal language inadequate to hold the reality of the emotions in the room. Application for the dissolution of the pastoral relationship! You can’t dissolve a pastoral relationship, not when a pastor and his people love each other this much.
If you know the Browns, you’ll know what a gift their family is. For most of June, we’ve had the distinct pleasure of living twenty strides up the hill from them, which has meant sharing more than one meal with them, sitting around a campfire fueled by old cupboards left from the church’s remodel, playing hide-and-seek with their three precious girls, and borrowing their oven to bake bread. They’ve invited us in with as much gusto as they do every person who comes into the church. And we’re aware that we know only this narrow slice of their life that’s sandwiched between accepting a call to Pillar Church and leaving for it. The rest of FRC knows them far better.
The church knows them as son and daughter, father and mother, brother and sister. FRC welcomed each of their three girls into the world and has raised them, just as it has raised Jon and helped him mature as a pastor. The people who have been here since before Jon talk proudly about how they’ve brought him up. He’s a good preacher, they say, but he wouldn’t be as good if it weren’t for us.
This strange period has made people exceptionally reflective. They seem like a self-aware church anyway, but now most all of our conversations return to observations about the church over the past twenty years, how it has changed in the nine years since they called Jon, and who they were then and who they are now. Fathers choke up as they recall when Jon baptized their sons and then paraded them down the aisle to meet the congregation. Older men can pick out the very spot in the sanctuary where they heard Jon preach forgiveness and where, for the first time in their 60-year-long lives, they forgave. Moms whose children can recite Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism say that what has changed is that now the church knows who it is—that it’s rooted in Christ.
That’s the kind of thing you’d expect to hear in a theology class—but to hear it from the mother of two middle schoolers! We don’t take it for granted that God, through Jon and this church, has done a good work in his people.
Each day holds a goodbye of some sort or another. Last week, Carol hosted a going-away dinner for the Browns, who have lived on her hill for about two years now. She invited the neighbors, who brought fruit and a succulent raspberry spinach salad. Carol fixed salmon, which one of the neighbors caught on a fishing trip. (If you want fresh-caught grilled salmon every week, you should intern in the Pacific Northwest at a church where the pastor is leaving!) She asked if we’d bring bread, so I pulled out this trusty whole wheat recipe from More-with-Less, the 70s Mennonite cookbook with an eye toward living economically.
The oven was busy with Carol’s salmon and potatoes, so, after kneading the dough, letting it rise, and shaping it, I baked it in the Browns’ oven. When I went over to take the bread out, Jon’s parents were on the back deck, talking to two long-time members of the congregation and watching the girls play on the swing. I felt as though I too were a part of the family, both the Browns’ and FRC’s. We’ve been enveloped, and we’re grateful. We know that our next seven weeks will be a combination of supporting the congregation and being supported, of loving and being loved. But the church knows who she is. She is Christ’s, and that will carry her.
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
adapted from Doris Janzen Longacre’s More-with-Less
A couple notes: I know a lot of people who are afraid of yeasted breads. Fear not! This recipe is fairly simple and will turn out warm and butter-worthy, even if it’s not gorgeous. I ended up over-baking mine because it was in the neighbors’ oven, and it still came out hearty and delicious. Also, the original recipe calls for powdered dry milk, which I never seem to have around when I need it, so I substituted real milk and cut back on the water. And for storage: Dan learned a trick recently, to store the bread cut-side down on a cutting board. I wrapped the whole thing—bread, board, and all—in a big plastic bag, just in case. It stays moist much longer that way.
Combine in a large bowl:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. salt
4 ½ tsp. yeast
Heat in a saucepan until warm (not hot):
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup honey
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Pour the warm liquid over the flour mixture. Stir for several minutes. Then mix in:
1 additional cup whole wheat flour
4 – 4 ½ cups unbleached white flour
Preheat the oven to its lowest temperature, and then turn it off.
Knead the dough for 5 minutes, using additional ½ c. flour if necessary. Place it in a greased bowl, cover with a thin dishcloth, and let it rise in the oven with the door cracked, until it has doubled in size. Give it a good hour or two. You’ll know it’s ready to punch down when you gently press your fingertip in and the dimple doesn’t fill in immediately.
Punch the dough down, divide it into two, and shape it into loaves. Place each loaf in a greased 9×5″ bread pan. Cover and let rise on the counter for about 45 minutes (you’ll need to preheat the oven, so don’t let the loaves rise there this time). Bake at 375°F for 40-45 minutes.
Slice into it as soon as you can. Eat it with a good slather of salted butter and a spoonful of honey drizzled on top.
Yield: 2 loaves