In the early days of Covid-19 Kay and I found ourselves standing at the baker’s bench in Niedlov’s Bakery in Chattanooga. My grandson asked his father why the baker’s bench was so long, and he replied that it took many hands to prepare the bread dough for baking. The heartbreaking fact at that time was that the professional team of bakers that once formed the assembly line along the Niedlov’s baker’s bench were now in the long lines of the unemployed.
Niedlov’s was deemed essential in those early days and so the larger orders for bread had to be filled after hours and by unprofessional hands. So four adults and two grandchildren took up positions along the baker’s bench and went to work.
While we worked I listened to my son-in-law, Erik, explain his philosophy around the idea of the baker’s bench and why it is so long. It is an assembly line of sorts with different stages of preparing the dough before it can be placed into the individual pans and put into the oven to bake. I learned quickly that the preparation process is labor intensive.
At that time, those of us in our little group were/are literal family connected by blood and marriage, but most who gather around the baker’s bench are not so related. Regardless, everyone who comes to the baker’s bench gathers for a single purpose. Those who come to the bench would rarely gather in other situations except for bread making. It feels like church, Erik remarked. As different as we all might be in life and likely never to congregate outside the sanctuary of the baker’s bench, by this simple act of making bread people become one in heart and mind.
By such action we are in community. We are honoring our labor. We are bearing witness of and to each other. And in our unity we are serving the world at large. Yes, it was like church. Most of us will not have the experience of gathering at a baker’s bench. But in countless other ways we can join others in putting our physical and mental and spiritual energy in the service of others. By thinking less of ourselves and more of other people we get to experience a unifying moment that could very well be transcendent.
Whatever form the baker’s bench takes in your life it offers opportunities to show simple acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion that can boost the morale of the world with demonstrations of love to our neighbor.