Let Us Break Bread Together

A series of posts about a collaborative project at Wingate University, resulting in a first-year course called Food and Faith: Health and Happiness Around the Many Tables of Our Lives. This is the second of a two-part post; click here for part one.

At Wingate, our approach to Service Learning and Community Engagement (SLCE) is supported by three principles: academic integrity (direct connection of course content with community engagement); student ownership (a student voice in course and project development); and apprentice citizenship (address real problems by learning alongside community partners). The first year Food and Faith course will be a community engaged course and involve all three principles.

Will a community engaged pedagogy have the desired results, namely a positive impact on our students and their vocation pilgrimage as planetary citizens?

Students who participate in service learning and community engagement have demonstrated increased retention, persistence, and academic achievement and this is something we have started to perceive across several of our SLCE courses (As an example of what this looks like in a particular discipline, see: Service Learning in Psychology). However, students who participate in SLCE courses access other benefits ranging from personal growth, increased confidence in their abilities to make a difference, an augmented sense of belonging on and off campus, and career pathways.

Educational institutions and departments benefit from community-university collaborations in the areas of “civic responsibility, public perception, increased visibility, reputation, student recruitment, and student post graduation employment prospects”  (Bringle et al., 2014; Bureau et al., 2014; Fitzgerald et al., 2012; see Karasik and Hafner, 2021 ). We can affirm this impact; preliminary data from just one of our SLCE courses shows that there was a significant improvement for students in three areas:all civic measures (engagement, skills, efficacy), 21st century skills, and teacher relatedness. To learn more about this course – a 300 level, general education Ethics course offered by the Religion Department –see this white paper, To Hume it May Concern.

For overviews of the different SLCE courses that have been offered and the impact of this approach, see the collection of white papers at The Collaborative for the Common Good at Wingate University.

The old spiritual sings “Let us break bread together on our knees” and rituals remind us that we learn by doing. In this collaboration, we approach the table with humility and what is shared at the table remains with us when we leave that shared space. This humility motivated us to carve out spaces for guiding our students through this process and for community members and our garden to direct learning. In the design of the course, we also practiced these truths. We have shared food and drink as we listened and learned about those seated around us: neighbors, cohorts, colleagues. We left the tables with lingering questions and observations––things upon which students will join us in reflection. We are committed to teaching in ways that reveal and emphasize our webs of connectedness: from gardens, to our personal palates and plates, to the many tables of our lives, and to national and global issues.

The old and honorable idea of “vocation” is simply that we each are called, by God, or by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted.

Wendell berry

A community engaged course pedagogy is a manifestation of Wendell Berry’s vision of vocation and what fosters thriving communities because it recognizes the worth of our many troublesome and pleasant neighbors in teaching about food and faith. All are not only welcome at the classroom table, but their gifts are also required to make it abundant.

Related posts: On community, see Mindy Makant’s Of Casseroles and Community and Re-thinking and Unlearning: Imagining New Ways of Being in Community (an interview with Nimisha Barton). On Wendell Berry and community, see Jeff Brown’s series on Rereading Wendell Berry on Community and Vocation.

This project is a collaboration between Catherine Wright, Shea Watts, and Harry Workman. Catherine Wright is a transplanted Canadian ecotheologian with degrees in Zoology, Education, and Christian ethics. She is the author of two books, Creation, God and Humanity: Engaging the Mystery of Suffering within the Sacred Cosmos (2017), and an interactive, practical ecotheology book (2020). Shea Watts is a Southern-born theologian whose deep dive into animal studies opened his eyes to the interconnectedness of life, which has resulted in his exploration of the intersection of animals, food production, and faith. His forthcoming book Where The Spirit Is explores the political contours of the early Pentecostal movement in the US. Rev. Dr. Harry Workman is a Wingate alum, a bowtie wearing North-Carolinian, and he is affectionately called the “Pastor of Disaster” since he serves communities devastated by crises. His dissertation explored the weaponizing of food via the green revolution, chemical revolution and industrialization of farming in the south in the 80s. He mourned the loss of Sabbath rest for the land and explored the intimate relationship between the ground, food, farmer, and feast.

Author: Catherine Wright

Catherine Wright (B.Sc, B.Ed, M.Div, Ph.D.) is an interdisciplinary Christian ecotheologian working at Wingate University (North Carolina) in the Religion and Philosophy Department. As a scholar-practitioner, she has helped to create a new institute on campus grounded in the principles of sustainable development called The Collaborative for the Common Good and was chosen to be its first Executive Director on August 1, 2020. Her thesis work focused on the implications of the new cosmology -- cosmogenesis -- on contemporary understandings of human suffering which is the topic of her first text: "Creation, God, and Humanity: Engaging the Mystery of Suffering within the Sacred Cosmos" (Paulist Press, 2017). She was ecstatic when it won an Association of Catholic Publishers (ACP) Excellence in Publishing award in the category of Theology in 2018. As a Christian ethicist, she issues via the intertwining lenses of eco-theology, liberation theology, ecofeminism, sustainability, and service-learning and community engagement. She constantly strives to communicate her Christ-centered approach to physical, social and spiritual healing in the many talks, fundraisers, think-tanks, lyceums, advisory boards, retreats, field trips, and panels she participates in or hosts, and with the student organizations, she advises on campus. After immersing herself in the ethos of Wingate and teaching a diverse number of courses such as Global Perspectives on Ethics, Systematic Theology, Religion and Science, Theological Responses to Our Ecological Crisis, Suffering and Joy, Christian Missions in the 21st Century, and EcoJustice another text was imagined and published in 2020 with Paulist Press. Her book is called “Caring for Our Common Home: A Practical Guide to Laudato Si'” and is intended to invite readers to new just behaviors with interactive exercises aimed to change hearts, heads, and hands. It gives new life to the tenet of being the "hands and feet of Christ" and since its publication, several book groups have used it as a guide. Catherine also loves supporting Creation Care and Catholic Social Justice teams across many dioceses as well as spending time with her family and friends in the great outdoors -- taking time to do some ‘holy noticing.’ A great joy for her is to work alongside passionate people of faith in her local community who are laboring to empower others to wholeness and happiness. Her fur babies keep her grounded as does her gardens, her daughter Draven, and husband Todd.

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