one altar at a time

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The Bishop's Ranch - Healdsburg, CA
The Bishop's Ranch - Healdsburg, CA

This past week the clergy from our diocese (bay area) gathered at The Bishop's Ranch for our annual conference.  It was great on many levels.  Gratitude for the beauty of the Ranch is a good place to begin.  Surrounded by vineyards, expansive fields and roaming bovine companions, we shared stories about caring for ourselves.  I had no idea some of my colleagues run marathons and practice ballet.  I heard stories of renewal that create personal sustainability.  In other words, peers are engaging in practices that restore their energy so their bodies are healthier and they're better servants to the people and work they love.

Another story of sustainability from clergy conference, and why I've launched Farm to Altar Table, is the opportunity to partner churches and organizations, like The Bishop's Ranch, with local grain farmers.  This year at clergy conference the bread we shared at communion was grown locally, by a small farmer - the farm is small, not the farmer.  It was 100% whole wheat, organically grown and stone ground the day before I picked it up.  The executive director of The Bishop's Ranch, Sean Swift, baked the bread with sour dough starter that was given to me by a farm apprentice and is 30 years old.

clergy conference
clergy conference

Sean said working with the flour was different than working with commercial whole wheat.  He described it as being lighter in texture and color.  It tasted nutty, rich and delicious and knowing it traveled a mere 45 miles to our altar table and is supporting a local farmer, whose organic practices renew the soil, felt good.

These descriptors may sound like a foodie-priest's account of altar bread, but there's reasons why each element I just named is vitally important: Organic and local=environmental justice.  Industrial wheat farming uses a lot of chemical pesticides and fertilizers which makes the Land and water sick.  In addition, commercially farmed wheat is transported thousands of miles, gobbling up fossil fuels so that it can reach our altar tables.  Organic=social justice: farm workers who grow with pesticides and fertilizers are exposed to unhealthy chemicals and suffer increased incidence of cancer and other diseases.  100% whole wheat/stone ground=Public Health: white flour is one of the leading causes in the increase in diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer and poor people who don't have access to healthy foods are most at risk.  Even whole wheat flour that's commercially farmed and milled isn't as healthy as stone ground flour because the grain is split apart and reconstituted which is less nutritious.  And...the local flour baked into bread was delicious!

So cheers to the first sustainable clergy conference altar bread!  A small step, one altar at a time is the way we will make a big difference.

me and sean
me and sean

Collaborating with Sean Swift