Over at bubsblurbs.com I’ve just finished a review of a book entitled Slow Church. In the book, the authors make the contention that we need to slow down in our approach to the way and which we practice our church life. They fear that the church has succumbed to “McDonaldization” and needs to recover a practice of “Slow Church,” much like many in the food world are saying we need to recover a practice of “Slow Food.”
Chris Smith and Jon Pattison who wrote the book believe that eating together is a crucial role in achieving this slowing down. I go into more detail on that in the review, so I won’t write about that here. As an aside, I like that their view of hospitality touches on some of the same things I touched on in my Common Eating post on the subject.
What I do want to write about an idea from early in the book that got me thinking. The authors talk about taste in the context of “terroir,” which they define as the “taste of the place.” Thy then go on to talk about how taste is the most intimate of our senses. All of which is true, but I think they didn’t take it far enough is they failed to mention that taste is the one sense that incorporates all the other senses.
A couple of years ago, Sobey’s, a Canadian grocery chain invited a group of food bloggers to a presentation on how tasting works, and the process they use for going about choosing their taste testers for their test kitchen. I didn’t end up writing something at the time, but it came back to me as I was reading this passage.
During the morning we worked through a series of tests. The first was water in which had been dissolved minute amounts of particles, that were, salty, sweet, sour, bitter or not at all. Then we were given unlabeled jars where we had to identify the flavour by scent alone. We also did that test where they give you the coloured plates with numbers embedded. I think there was one more test, but I can’t remember.
We were also asked to describe how certain foods felt when we bit into them. After we did this, we were told that we should use words that describe the sensation. Tasting involves, touch, sight, sound and smell along with whatever sensations are created by our taste buds.
Slow Food and Slow Church
Slow food encourages people to not only take time in preparing food, but also in eating it with others. Slow Church invites us to do the same with our lives as a community of faith. Spending time together, especially around food allows us to “taste” each other. Now, I’m not suggesting gnawing on the arm of the person sitting next to you in the pew(although given the length of some sermons, I could understand how someone might start to feel a little peckish).
What I would like to suggest is that if we practice the principles of Slow Church, that we start to use all of our senses as we get to know each other. To taste each other is to understand each other fully as people created in God’s image. This is hard to do when we our life together consists of an hour or so on Sunday morning or perhaps an extra hour during the week.
One of my favourite Slow Church times is at the gatherings that St. Margaret’s Anglican Church holds. These periodically occur either after a Sunday evening service or after a guest has been presenting something at the church. The evenings consist of wine, cheese, bread, cold cuts and other odds and ends of fruit and chocolate. Sometimes there is a surfeit sometimes a scarceness.
One thing that is always in good supply is conversation. In part because time and space is allowed for conversation to develop. Time and space that generally does not require that all conversation be deep and challenging. Laughter and silliness make regular appearances at the gatherings. Yet, it is at these gatherings that I’ve made some of my best connections with those inside the parish and with visitors. Here it is we truly get a taste of/for one another. Here we have time and space to hear each other. That is what Slow church hopes to accomplish.
Meal time is not miracle time. Our lives aren’t instantly made better by sharing food together. Eating together requires us to extend grace to each other. Likewise Slow Church is not a miracle solution. It’s not a plug n play program, but a reorientation. One that works best if a large part of that reorientation occurs as we face each other across a dinner table. A dinner table where we take time to eat slowly and converse regularly.