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From the Goldfields

God-Talk: Gingerbread

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The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith AM Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields

I didn’t learn to cook at my mother’s knee. She was busy managing five young children, and she had not inherited a genius for baking from her own mother. I’m grateful for the Home Economics lessons at school that taught me basic baking techniques and such useful facts as 'the effects of dry heat on flour mixtures'. These days I mostly cook savoury dishes, but I can still rustle up a tea cake, a tray of chocolate chip biscuits, a sponge, a pavlova or several kinds of rather good pastry.

Two parish children arrive at my house in mid-Advent with their aprons, ready to do some pre-Christmas baking. On the bench are all the ingredients for an authentic old-English gingerbread recipe. At five and seven years old, the sister and brother are able to read the list of ingredients and the method of combining them. The only digital device we need all afternoon is a set of kitchen scales for measuring flour and sugar.

So we weigh flour and sifted it with spices; we melted butter and treacle and stir in brown sugar; we mix it all together, and add some milk and bicarb soda. We practise measuring a level teaspoonful of this and that. While the gingerbread dough is chilling, we tr our hand at cupcakes. These require coaching in the additonal techniques of creaming the butter and sugar and folding in the flour and milk. There is, of course, much licking of spoons and bowls. The cupcakes are baked, cooled, and topped with green icing (the bakers’ school faction colour) and silver sprinkles.

The gingerbread dough is divided between the children, who roll it out and cut it into star shapes, ready to bake. Out of the scraps we cut each child’s initial, and finally make a wonky oval shape so that nothing will be wasted. We discover that gingerbread dough is almost as delicious, raw, as cupcake batter. After the gingerbread is baked and cooled, more glacé icing and fancy Christmas sprinkles are lavishly applied.

Then the children decorate my little Christmas tree and arrange the figures for the nativity scene. They know that story well.

I will, of course, be putting considerable effort into my sermons for Christmas. Even after nearly 40 years of preaching, there is always something fresh to be said about the mystery of a God who chose to leave heaven and come to live as one of us. I enjoy the challenge of telling, in colloquial Australian language, the Bible stories of Mary and Joseph, shepherds and angels, wise travellers and stars. I hope these parish children, as well as our once-a-year visitors, will have a moment of awe and joy as they listen, sing and pray.

But baking gingerbread together is a kind of sermon, too, and perhaps a more memorable one. A sermon about receiving and giving hospitality; about building relationships and sharing knowledge across the generations; about the sweet taste of community, sprinkled with faith and love.

Goldfields God talk Making Gingerbread

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