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‘Feast for the Common Good’

Subversive gatherings are good for the body, mind and soul

By Carolyn Pogue

If ever there was a time for soul work, subversive gatherings and renewed focus on the common good, it’s now. That's why I had looked forward to this past weekend’s Feast for the Common Good in Calgary — the third such feast in all of Canada.

Working for the common good is counterculture to so much of what is being hurled at us in the news, on our streets and — significantly — in our kitchens. That underpins the work of author and ethicist Rev. Ted Reeve, of Orillia, Ont.’s St. Paul's United Church Centre, and his colleague, Rev. Bill Phipps — my husband. Their work together throughout Bill's time as moderator of The United Church (1997 - 2000) began with the national Moderator's Consultation on Faith and the Economy. Over the years, their work has taken twists and turns but remains focussed on what is best for the planet and her beings.

The Feast began Friday night with a beautiful vegetarian meal, during which our hosts, Bill and Reeve, fed us conversational appetizers, encouraging leisurely conversation about issues that we sometimes find difficult to talk about: right relations, economic disparity, climate change — and how they interconnect.

The Feast attracted people from across generations. And conversations were rich and stimulating, just like the food, which was slow-cooked by EthniCity, an organization that welcomes newcomers to Canada and offers training in the food arts. Many of the groceries were supplied by our local health food store, Sunnyside Market. This was different from many church suppers in that most diners were not members of the church, so networking with the community was a decided bonus. The food focus helped us to think about the source, transport and preparation. As for me, I dined with seven others — two of whom were casual friends who didn’t attend Hillhurst United Church, where the meal was served.

(Left to right) Former United Church Moderator Rev. Bill Phipps, and author and ethicist Rev. Ted Reeve. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
(Left to right) Former United Church Moderator Rev. Bill Phipps, and author and ethicist Rev. Ted Reeve. Photo by Carolyn Pogue

Frankly, I had a hard time imagining how the conversation would flow, but it did. After each course, we were offered encouraging questions. Flowers, candles and beauty replaced the flip charts, flow charts and to-do lists often used for this kind of soul work.

By the end of the evening, we had laid the internal groundwork for the Saturday workshop facilitated by the co-founders of Refugia Retreats (I loved learning that refugia is a scientific term referring to places that become safe spaces for organisms and life to endure in the midst of upheaval.). Co-founders Amy Spark and Jodi Lammiman led us through exercises and discussion founded on Joanna Macy's Work that Reconnects. Macy, a Buddhist scholar, eco-feminist and author, passionately helps us to connect our compassion to action in order to help heal Earth and one another.

Again, we were fed body and soul on Saturday, with the caterers offering wonderful dishes that will potentially turn some of us into vegans. (My favourite was vegan pad thai.) It was all part of walking the talk in order to keep our bodies in good shape and walk more gently on Earth.

"There is a lot of anger and frustration in the world just now; the weekend offered an antidote," Bill said. As for Reeve, he’s now thinking about subversive acts that we can all do during Lent: looking carefully at what we’re  consuming. The conversation reminded me that everything is political, including what we put in our refrigerators.

All in all, the few hours spent with others who share concern, passion and vision felt like the best way to spend a winter weekend. If you also enjoy subversion like this, I hope you’ll find or organize a Feast of your own.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a Calgary author and longtime Observer contributor. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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