By: Christa Meland
Five years ago, many residents of White Bear Lake probably didn’t realize that the city was home to a United Methodist Church. Today, virtually everyone in the community knows White Bear Lake UMC as “the bread church.”
That’s because of the church’s bread oven ministry, which launched four years ago after members constructed a wood-fired brick oven on church grounds. The ministry has been such a successful method of outreach that the congregation decided to provide the funding and expertise to help another Minnesota United Methodist congregation build its own bread oven—and applications from interested churches are being accepted through Oct. 1.
“It’s this spiritual way of connecting with the bread of life, with Jesus, in a very tangible, earthy, hands-on way,” Pastor Bryce Johnson said of White Bear Lake UMC’s bread oven ministry. (Click here to watch a video in which Johnson delivers a TED Talk about how bread making provides the opportunity to slow down, discover the sacred in the ordinary, and connect with community.)
In 2010, the congregation constructed the oven, which was patterned after community bread ovens in Europe. From the 14th through 19th centuries, the communal oven was a sacred space and a key part of village life. Once a week, the oven was fired—and families would bring their homemade dough to bake bread. Members of White Bear Lake UMC thought this early way of connecting people could work today, and they were right.
The church bakes bread to share with the hungry, hosts community bread baking events and classes, gives bread from the oven to Sunday morning visitors, and bakes caramel rolls to serve on Sunday mornings. The church also hosts a few “summer pizza events” that bring together members of the congregation and community to enjoy a meal and fellowship.
Johnson estimates that about 100 volunteers have assisted with the bread oven ministry, and at least a third of those who come to the bread oven events haven’t previously been connected with the church. Men and new members have shown a particular interest in assisting with the bread oven ministry.
Over the past few years, two Lutheran churches in Minneapolis and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities approached White Bear Lake UMC to ask for guidance in building their own brick ovens—a request that members of the congregation happily fulfilled.
Now, the congregation wants to help another United Methodist church start a bread oven ministry and share bread of life with its community.
“We’re glad to help the Lutherans but we really want to help United Methodists to do this,” said Johnson. “It’s been so significant for renewing our congregational life that we want to share it with someone else.”
White Bear Lake UMC has an endowment fund that helps it fund new ministries and outreach efforts. The bread oven ministry team recently applied for $4,500 to help another congregation begin a bread oven ministry—and the request was granted.
When asked how the team will select a church to receive funding for its own brick oven, Johnson said it will be one that has a vision for how to connect members and the community through the bread oven. “They need to have some concrete plans about how they would…build an ongoing ministry with it” and “they need to demonstrate some thoughtfulness about an ongoing plan to use it,” he added.
Churches interested in applying must:
1. Form a team to study the opportunity.
2. Ensure that your municipality will allow an oven (White Bear Lake UMC can provide guidance on how to do this.)
3. Commit to have a work team in place.
4. Prepare a plan for ongoing operations—including expenses, volunteers, and how the ministry will take shape.
5. Submit an application by Oct. 1.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church