Monday, February 17, 2014

Eucharist and Food Justice

Eucharist and the Hungry Poor
Breaking bread & sharing food in a world full of need

Amy McCreath

In Luther and the Hungry Poor, Samuel Torvend explains Martin Luther’s frustration with church practice that separated the breaking of bread at the altar from the Christian call to share bread with the world.  Reflecting on the Eucharist, Martin Luther wrote, “Learn that this is a sacrament of love. As love and support are given you, you in turn must render love and support to Christ in his needy ones. “

Over the past several years, the parish I serve has been gradually drawn more deeply into the work of feeding and the call to work for food justice. One of the first steps we took was to invite each member of the congregation to bring one item every week to donate to our local food pantry. The practice took hold, so that now, year-round, we have baskets in the narthex to collect donations, and year-round, these are presented, along with the bread and wine, at the offertory.

It seems to me a beautiful thing that the first action of the people as they come to worship is one of offering. As John Hill wrote in Open several years ago, “the Gathering rite is a summation – a gathering up of the threads – of those ministries which are to be offered to God in prayer. “

So there is the placing of food in the basket as people enter and there is the presentation of the food collection at the offertory. But what’s next? That’s where I’d love to hear your thoughts. John Hill wrote in that same Open article that “the Sending is a commissioning for the varied ministries of service in the world.” He suggested that the reception (or “coffee hour”) following worship provides us a time not merely to socialize, but to socialize around the new reality which we’ve just enacted.

In light of that, it seems unfortunate to simply leave the food pantry basket sitting under the altar after the dismissal, as we gather nearby for coffee and fellowship. Sometimes it sits there till Thursday, when a volunteer takes the food down the street to the pantry. Hmmm. We are fortunate in my parish to have a space in which to gather after worship that is simply an extension of the worship space – a former side chapel. One can see the altar from where one stands eating a Danish; it’s about fifty feet away.

What are your thoughts about weaving this commitment to “feeding the hungry poor” and working for food justice all the way through our morning together at our parish? How have you tried to connect the breaking and sharing of altar bread with the breaking and sharing of other food in this world so full of need? I look forward to the conversation.

Amy McCreath is a presbyter serving with the Church of the Good Shepherd, Watertown, MA, and a Council Member of APLM. Amy blogs at


  1. Hi, Amy - thank you for this. The parish I serve does a similar thing in terms of baskets in the narthex and presentation at the offertory and afterward the baskets are left until someone takes the food to the pantry (I'm embarrassed to say that on occasion, I've noticed "last week's" food presented the following Sunday because those who bring if forward didn't realized it hadn't been taken to the pantry when it should have!) And like you, we can clearly see the day's food offerings from our coffee hour location. We've been "feeding people" (our mission statement) for years, but I really want to introduce the idea of advocacy and justice - it's the next step and probably long overdue. I really like the idea of incorporating the sending out of the food, perhaps commissioning those who take it to the pantry in a similar fashion to the way we commission lay eucharistic ministers.

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  3. One way of doing justice is to promote, encourage and model fair trade practices. The easiest place to begin is coffee. What kind do you use at coffee hour? Could your church partner with a local fair trade supplier to make fair trade coffee available in your community? (I know a church that has used this as a fundraiser). Can you approach local merchants to encourage them to make fair trade coffee available. It is a small practice, but easily implemented, highlights how our prosperous lifestyle practices impoverish others, yet is affordable for the most cash- strapped parish.

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