EATING and FEASTING

Bacon and eggs are sometimes as necessary to a celebration of the Eucharist as bread and wine.  On Saturday mornings, when my two sons were still at home they were encouraged to attend the 8.00am Eucharist by the promise of a bacon and eggs breakfast afterwards.  Like heaven it was a reward not a bribe. 

 

One of the deans who was my boss in days gone by used to ask me to breakfast after the 6.30am Eucharist several times a week.  He was a wild, bearded, ruddy‑cheeked bachelor and insomniac who made bread in the middle of the night. This bread was  so full of gritty roughage that on its journey through the digestive tract it scraped away barnacles, straightened out kinks and scoured clean all ulcers. Combined with huge smoked sausages, a couple of eggs, strong coffee and stronger gossip it made for memorable breakfasts.

 

Pumpkin Fritters

Food and parsoning go together and parsons are usually extremely good trencher men. We have food and drink pressed upon us on the majority of parish visits and nearly all significant parish events involve a meal of one sort or another. 

 

Because I enjoy eating and love cooking, I find food a useful topic of conversation with parishioners who otherwise I have little in common with.  On a regular monthly visit to a remote cottage on the Island of St Helena I once unadvisedly showed an appreciation of, and taste for pumpkin fritters .  Thereafter I was expected to relish at least half a dozen of the cold and greasy brutes every time I visited.  A fitting penalty for the hypocrisy of my pretended appreciation.  So unappetising were they at 10.30 in the morning that I had to compound hypocrisy with deceit and discreetly secrete three or four in my pocket to fling far into the ubiquitous flax on my walk home.

 

An elderly priest of my acquaintance, noted for helping himself to a more than generous portion of everything available at parish meals, was once observed piling the petals from a decorative bowl of pot pourri onto his plate, imagining them some new and exotic delicacy.  A spoil‑sport alerted him to the error before we had the chance to see if he wuffled his way through them with the gusto of a health freak at the muesli.   Bishops too have a way with food, as I observed once in a piece of verse inspired by sitting opposite Bishop Hazlewood at a Bishop in Council luncheon:

 

From living rich on food and wine

that purple prelates' palates please,

On pork terrine, poached salmon, truffles,

caviar, foie gras, French cheese;

Our bishop to reality returned

last month from overseas!

At Bishop's Council lunch he faced

a pie, tomato sauce and peas!

 


He sat there facing me sad faced

to face the sagging faceless pie.

He rolled his eyes and pursed his lips

and spooned on sauce, and gave a sigh.

He poked the thing, which promptly spilled

its gristly gravy guts, to die,

Surrounded by the saucy peas,

to eat the which he had a try.

 

But memories of truffles, salmon,

camembert and stilton cheese,

Of Cambridge, Ely, London, Gloucester

(Ballarat's antitheses)

All caused him sadly to retire,

with pie uneaten (and the peas),

Regretting exile here to bitter

Ballarat antipodes.

 

Unadulterated Tripe

My first parish, in Africa, was fortunate enough to have inherited a fifteenth part of a third share in a local gold mine.  This meant that we were rich and so able to build a new church for a poor and predominantly black congregation in our country town.  To celebrate its consecration we were invited to a feast.  One of the churchwardens offered me a huge piece of unwashed tripe from the whole spitted oxen.  When I declined with an invisible shudder, he took it in both hands and sank his teeth into its juicy, dirty greenness with a joy and gusto that made me wonder if I should not try it.

 

The same churchwarden asked my wife and me to a meal at his house some months later.  It was a traditional and lovely African meal ‑ the meat dish in a common bowl, the staple "sadza", which is a savoury, stiff porridge made from ground maize, in another.  Towards its end the meal suddenly developed an almost Eucharistic significance.  As we ate happily together, blacks and whites, the guerilla war that was to turn Rhodesia into Zimbabwe was raging.  There was an evening curfew in the area and to visit remote parts of my parish I had to travel in armed convoy with a sub‑machine gun beside me which I had only a vague idea of how to fire.  The conversation turned to the war and our experience of it and almost incidentally we learned that our host had been captured and imprisoned by guerrillas, that his wife had had her teeth knocked out by a rifle butt, that their families lived in extremely dangerous situations .....  The meal, like the Eucharist, suddenly and poignantly revealed to my wife and me, at a personal level, the cost and pain and suffering of innocence, goodness and redemption.