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Thinking Out Loud

The Good News: Community and Food at Louisville Seminary

by Michael Jinkins | Aug 08, 2017


Steve CookEditor’s note: Today’s “Thinking Out Loud” blog post is guest written by Steve Cook (pictured). Steve is Registrar and Associate Dean of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Faith traditions and schools share many values in common. Among the most widely shared is a commitment to creating and sustaining community through eating together. Formally or informally, as an expression of belief or not, eating together nourishes people through the development of common bonds and respect for differences and offers the chance to reflect on how time together prepares us for our work in the world. Surely a seminary, of all places, must be attentive to how it promotes the ability to eat, learn, and grow as a community.

Faith traditions and schools also know how hard it can be, financially, to promote common meals. Put simply, it costs money to equip and staff a cafeteria, and there has to be enough business to justify the expense. The expense/revenue challenge was fully felt at Louisville Seminary when our campus cafeteria service ceased completely in February 2017 after the seminary’s on-site catering company went out of business.

Consider the above comments as prelude to the good news on which I want to report. I make this report, mind you, not as someone who oversees the cafeteria’s financial stability. I am the seminary’s registrar, and I have never been too aware of our food services budget. Rather, I write as someone who has been blessed by eating with others in religious and educational settings.

The good news is this: Louisville Seminary is once again eating together because the community values it and wants to make it happen. Further, we have gained a renewed sense of why we eat together and who constitutes our community.

The first expression of the resolve to maintain community through food occurred because our students took it upon themselves to organize “Loaves and Fishes” lunches every Thursday after the 11:30 a.m. chapel service. In most ways, it was just a weekly potluck. But it soon became apparent that it could reteach all of those raised in the ways of the church potluck just what the tradition means. “What do you have to offer?” we asked ourselves each week. Maybe it was a favorite recipe, or a box of Girl Scout cookies, or nothing at all.

Each week also brought reminders: Bring whatever you have, and most importantly bring yourself. If you see someone you do not know, meet them and bring them. It’s “Loaves and Fishes” day, and there will be plenty. Our “Loaves and Fishes” lunches were spirited events. While we ate and talked, we did other things, too. We heard each other read aloud during African American Literature Week. We learned from students who returned from January term travel seminars. We were entertained by youth from arts programs supported by our donations to The Fund for the Arts. When the spring semester was over, I was sad to see “Loaves and Fishes” lunches end, but I was proud of our seminary.

This summer, Louisville Seminary took a new approach to how it could provide meal service five days a week. Having a kitchen staff, employed by the seminary, would be too expensive. Hiring an outside company, which we had effectively done most recently, would not be possible because of our small size. Instead, the seminary invited the New Legacy Reentry Corporation – a community organization that helps ex-offenders overcome barriers to success after incarceration – to use our kitchen for a vocational training and apprenticeship program. While the New Legacy program serves breakfast and lunch at prices they set, they also use the seminary’s kitchen space to fulfill their own contracts (ex. for a city-wide lunch program that helps youth impacted by hunger when school is not in session).

As the New Legacy Café, the Winn Center cafeteria is open again with new food and friends and with more chances to share meals together. This relationship is already giving our students fresh opportunities to serve as they have volunteered to help deliver summer meals in the local area.  While the New Legacy culinary arts program helps its participants learn new skills, both cooking-related and interpersonal, it provides Louisville Seminary with new ways to live, eat, and learn in community.

Have you heard the good news? There is community and food at Louisville Seminary. Please come and join us. There is always plenty.

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