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Michelle “dances” on wild rice.

The initial year in a new city and new ministry sometimes feels like a series of “firsts” strung together: first meal in a new home, first day in a new office, first holiday away from community and family. One of the “firsts” I was looking forward to this fall was attending the Feast for Friends at the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre outside of Beausejour.

This year the Feast took place at the end of the week long Mamawe Ota Askihk Festival – an inter-cultural and inter-generational event focusing on traditional food gathering and preparation. Those of us who came out for the Saturday Feast were able to see the projects and learn about hide tanning, processing wild rice, and gete okosomin squash (a huge indigenous varietal!). A sacred fire burned all day, and teachings were offered before we enjoyed a game of “Indian Baseball.” At the end of day, we gathered indoors for our feast – gathered around tables and with plates balanced on knees.

Although the people and place and tastes were different, much of the day reminded me of family feasts shared over the holidays. Elders, adults and children gathered together. Conversations opened up to include someone passing by. People grabbed a chair, put a log on the fire, tried scraping hide.

Food brings us together, but it is the togetherness that brings us a feast. The laughter and storytelling, pitching in to lend a hand, and learning traditions by participating in them – these are the ingredients of feasting. For all that I keep dog-eared family recipe cards, it is the feeling of squeezing in elbow to elbow that I remember most about family feasts – the sound of simultaneous conversations and the washing up at the kitchen sink after supper and before cards – the togetherness.

Two feast parables in Luke 14:7-11 and 16-24 challenge us to consider what invitations we issue and to whom; which ones we accept and how we act once we arrive. The parable of the marriage feast asks us to imagine being invited, and instructs us to choose the lowest place, rather than the one of honour. When I read it, I am challenged to reflect on how I enter new communities and introduce myself. Do I use my name? A title?

The parable of the banquet describes how the “A-List” guests offer excuses for declining an invitation, and how the householder instead invites poor strangers from the streets. When I read it, I think about who I want to eat with, and with whom I feel comfortable. Am I drawing near to people like me or people of influence? Can I imagine inviting in the people digging through the dumpster in the parking lot?

These parables point to the way we negotiate relationships and status through eating together. Are our tables open and welcoming? Do we expect people to know and demonstrate a particular set of table manners? Are the table seating and place settings easy to navigate? How do we know where to sit? What utensils to use? Are children welcome? Are elders served? What about someone who needs assistance to eat? Or who can’t eat what is on offer?

I was so blessed to be invited to the Feast for Friends. To share in a day that included teaching and stories and eating. I “danced” on wild rice in borrowed moccasins to loosen the husks and finished winnowing by hand, which reminded me of shelling peas with my own grandmother on a farm porch. One of the reflections shared that day was that we can come together in new communities through the sharing of work and the sharing of our own traditions – particularly those involving the preparation of food.

Michelle Owens is a diaconal minister and the Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies.

I left the feast well fed in body and soul. And in the car ride home through the dark, we talked about our day – about what we ate and with whom we shared labour and laughter. We carried the memories, new learnings, and relationships home, and feast on them still.