Enough to leaven the loaf: Gospel hope rises in Allentown

Samantha Lioi, Whitehall

One story below our living room window, cars swish by on Hamilton Street, spraying the brown slush which fell as snow and sleet on the main drag into downtown Allentown. There old churches, old shops, more recent Egyptian bagel-makers and the new coffee and sandwich place stand side by side amidst economic depression, trying, like the rest of us, to keep in enough heat and enough joy to carry through a long winter. Most days the living room is filled with sunlight—the warmest room in the house—and knowing that I can accept this day that feels more like the gray northern Indiana winters I left to move here just three months ago.

Downstairs on the kitchen counter, sourdough starter is bubbling. Since taking up residence at Zumé (ZOO-may) House in November, I have started baking bread again. Zumé is the Greek word for “yeast” or “leaven” in the New Testament, and the verse for which our house is named is found in Luke 13:21: “[The kingdom of God . . .] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” As a household, we are hoping to be leaven in our neighborhood, our relationships, our city. With that in mind we have claimed three words to describe the house: faith, community, and transformation. We’re still fixing up the place, still imagining and asking God what and who we are becoming, so I will describe what has emerged so far as we continue our sometimes impatient waiting for the community dough to rise.

We are people of Christian faith.
We are followers of Jesus, disciples (students) expecting that learning to follow requires practice and ongoing learning, and apostles (those who are sent), just as we understand each of our sisters and brothers to be sent by Christ to partner with God in reconciliation. Our faith is shaped by
Mennonite Anabaptist understandings of the Gospel including simple living, peacemaking, and knowing and living the Scriptures as we discern together how that is enfleshed in our time and place.

We are a community.
Like many in the U.S. who share this vision, we are still learning what this means. We are keenly aware how deeply individualism is engraved in the grooves of our brains, the felt needs of our hearts and the raised silver numbers of our credit cards. Much of U.S. American culture thrives on our wanting and spending and self-isolating. As we learn to commit to one another in a common life, a foundation of our faithfulness to Jesus is to live in a way that counters
this individualism and carves new grooves in us, day by day. We have spoken about our desire to “submit to allowing ourselves to be challenged about how we spend our time and our money and being willing to make different choices based on encounters in community life. We know we are better disciples together, and we expect to be changed.

Transformation is the result.
Of course, this is only possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Christ, who is the original leaven. We are committed to encourage one another to expect that God’s Spirit is constantly working through the whole loaf—to continue in hope that God is making all things new—us, our neighborhood, our city, indeed all of creation.

In a way, we know exactly what this means. Like every other follower of Jesus, we are called to rely on God and expect our Creator to act in our daily lives and in the lives of our neighbors. We are to love these neighbors, pray for them, invite them into our home and visit them in theirs, share food, celebrate and grieve with them, invite them deeper into the self-giving love of God and into allegiance to Christ by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. It is also true that we have very little idea what this means. How and when do we do these things? How much time do we devote to prayer as a household? Whom do we invite to join us in prayer? What exactly do we offer our neighborhood (English classes, tutoring, Spanish classes, GED prep)? How do we choose among the many good possibilities and dreams for participating in God’s mission? What is the particular gift or charism of our house? When will we know this? For now, it’s just two of us, and thecharacter and gift of the community could bloom in any number of colors depending on who comes to join us. It’s energizing and hopeful to imagine this, and while we are inviting and waiting for others to come, it’s stretching and overwhelming to choose and focus right now, in the present, precisely what we’re committing to given who we are and what we bring.

Paul told the Ephesian church it was normal not to be able to put their finger on what and who they were becoming, for “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Turns out, not knowing can nourish trust, and the Gospel’s full of small, ordinary, dark, daily goodness—the seed in the earth, the salt that brings flavor, the yeast invisibly working through the dough. Author Kathleen Norris in The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” invites more respect for “dailiness”—for necessary daily tasks like cooking meals and doing laundry and doing the dishes—as the very place God meets us, day in, day out.* And what is Christian community if not sharing what is daily in our lives? It sounds like a simple idea, and at its root is deeply counter-cultural: “Give us today our bread for the day.” Give us enough for this day, and we will admit our utter impotence to ensure anything about tomorrow. Be with us today, and we will try to notice your presence in this day. We pour the flour, we knead the loaf, we let it be and let it rise. We discern our life together in daily glimpses, slowly. Trusting there’s enough for each day, God help us.

Zumé House is an initiative connected with Whitehall Mennonite Church where Samantha is associate pastor for worship and mission. The house represents a coming together of Franconia Conference-related ministries in Center City Allentown, building on generations of witness and mission in Pennsylvania’s third largest city.

The house is still under renovation and welcoming groups to help create a space that not only nourished the community of persons who lives there, but also the neighborhood. Contact Rose Bender at rosebender87@gmail.com.

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