(RNS) — The Rev. Jennie Williams may not not care much for the kitchen, but she didn’t start cooking her way through the solemn season of Lent as penance.
She did it to get to know her new congregation at Elm Springs United Methodist Church in Springdale, Arkansas.
Williams will resume that Lenten practice this week in a new installment of her Facebook video series “Lent’s Eat,” in which she makes a recipe or two from congregants each week of Lent, the season of prayer and penitence many Christians observe in preparation for Easter.
“It ended up being a tool for ministry for me in ways that I did not expect,” she said.
Williams started the video series last year during her first Lent at Elm Springs, after coming to the church in July 2020. A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic was “an incredibly wild time to start a new appointment,” she said, and it was challenging for her to get to know her new congregation.
The church was cautious in how it met at the time to protect its many elderly members who were among the most endangered by the disease. There were services each Sunday in the church parking lot, but no potlucks or home visits.
Then the pastor stumbled across a cookbook published by Elm Springs United Methodist Women in 2014 called “Let’s Eat.” The compilation included recipes from many members who still attended Elm Springs — and it gave the pastor an idea.
“Why don’t I film myself cooking these recipes and then try to get to know the person either through their recipe or talking to them?” she said.
It might be funny to film and put online, she thought.
She started with a hot artichoke dip and something called Mexican casserole. The oven broke. The recipes turned out delicious anyway.
Members of the congregation shared the video with friends beyond Springdale.
Food often plays a role in Lenten observances, though the season usually is associated with fasting instead of feasting.
Many Christians observe food-related traditions on the day before Lent begins — like making Shrove Tuesday pancakes and eating jelly- or custard-filled pastries on Paczki Day — intended to use up stores of alcohol, butter and other indulgent ingredients.
For the next 40 days, some choose to give up their favorite treats to remind them of Jesus’ suffering and death in the days leading up to Easter. Catholics in particular abstain from meat on Fridays as part of their Lenten practice.
“I think one of the things that we forget about Lent is that early Christians did fast and abstain from things, but they would also take on new practices,” Williams said.
“I’ve mentioned cooking can be a chore for me, but these things have been a joy for me as well. It’s expanded my emotional and spiritual awareness and capacity, and so I think it’s appropriate to share the joy that I get from it with others.”