What does a community of hospitality and generosity look like? What habits does it exhibit? What leadership does it need? A few weeks ago Amelia Koh-Butler and I hosted the annual national gathering of Uniting Church lay and leadership educators here in Adelaide. It is a small group of people who work at a state and national level, peers in adult education and faith formation.
We explored the theme of the church as a community of practice over the three days. The group agreed to play with an idea that I’ve had for a leadership retreat, where we experience and reflect on what it means to be a community who learn together about our shared purpose.
Our text for the 3 days was the recently published “Moroccan Soup Bar” cookbook by the wonderful Hana Assafiri. The book contains stories and recipes from a renowned Melbourne cafe/restaurant which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting once. It is so much more than a cookbook. Alongside many great recipes, Hana speaks her from own story, from the heart of her remarkable Soup Bar and also of her team.
The stories are rich with the clear purpose of the Soup Bar, and bursting with culture and character. Interwoven through family-inspired vegetarian recipes are narratives of heritage, creativity, welcome, courage, forgiveness, welcome and generosity. I could say much more but I want to encourage you to buy the book! Many of the stories are about cultural identity and cross-cultural interactions.
So instead of meeting in church offices for 2 days, we met in a home, a country town cafe, a brewery-cafe, a winery, an Afghani restaurant, a beach cafe, and outdoors near a take-away food place. I admit that we did start off in the synod office.
When we gathered on the Monday I introduced people to Hana’s story and the story of the Moroccan Soup Bar. I shared a little from Etienne Wenger’s “Communities of Practice“. We read Acts 2:42-47 and prayed using Tess Ward’s “The Celtic Wheel of The Year.”
On Monday evening we gathered in the home of two of the locals (thanks Amelia and Terry!) and we cooked recipes from the cookbook. We worked in small groups and together to prepare recipes that we’d never seen. The aim was to experience working in the kitchen together, to converse, to learn, to share, to tell stories, to celebrate. We had a great evening, and the food was fabulous. (I planned and directed the proceedings, and they did all of the hard work…)
I invited some people from the group to choose and read stories from the cookbook on the following days. So as we met in each place, where possible we would hear a story, read Acts 2:42-47 again in each context, pause and use our senses, thoughts and feelings to reflect on what we had experienced in each place about being a community of practice. And at times we would have a prayer from Tess Ward. The contexts were quite varied and so were our reflections about being church.
I chose the venues because they were popular or innovative or both, and also for the cultural and sensory variety of the experiences. I wanted difference spaces, locations, cultures, cuisines. On the Tuesday evening we ate at the superlative Parwana Afghan Kitchen because it is the most similar place to the Moroccan Soup Bar that I know of in Adelaide. A bustling home-food family cafe. Terrific food. Lots of conversation.
These folk participated willingly and graciously in the experiment. I learned enough to help me craft what I think could be a rich retreat for a group of church leaders. And they each went home with a book of stories and recipes that I hope will dwell in their homes and ministries for a long time. Thanks for the journey, my friends.