A time of fermentation

Sixoh6 contributor Ben Wideman shares his reflections regularly at 606.

What do pickles, bread, vinegar, cheese, wine, and yogurt have in common? They all benefit from fermentation over time. Tiny little bacteria take their time to turn some basic ingredients from one thing into an entirely new food.

On our urban homestead, over the past several years, we’ve fermented bread, yogurt, pickles, kimchi, peppers, hot sauce, beer, kombucha, sauerkraut, cider, and probably a few other things that I’m forgetting about.

Fermentation takes time. Sometimes these lengthy fermentations work out really well. The perfect fermentation may provide the homemade bread with a better crumb or crust, the pickles with the ideal crispy snap, and beer with the right balance among  hops, malt, and yeast. Sometimes the end result is even better than you imagined. I have a clear memory of one of my early attempts at making kombucha, discovering that I had created something that was even better than anything I had purchased at a store.

Other times circumstances mean that the fermentation is just a little off. Your bread dough might not be warm enough while it rises, or perhaps an unexpected bacteria creeps in, leading to overly-moldy cheese or apple cider vinegar when you were aiming for a crisp fermented cider.

Kombucha - Wikipedia

I wondered this week what our faith communities are creating during this COVID-19 time. Is this a fermentation for our church that is going to produce something even better than we anticipated when it began, or are we going to come out on the other side being disappointed by what we’ve uncovered in our new reality?

What we do know right now is that this is taking time. It is requiring us to give up aspects of our lives, not fully knowing whether our quarantine lifestyles are overly or inadequately cautious. We have given up our Sunday morning handshakes and hugs and joining our voices together in the same room. It has introduced a vulnerability to some of us who struggle with health, income, or mobility challenges.

At the same time, technology during this fermentation has provided us with glimpses of our family living spaces, of kids crawling over parents, of church in pajamas, of grandparents marveling at the chance to connect over distances, and at more photos, videos, and glimpses of our daily lives than we normally feature in our services. Not only are people from outside of Pennsylvania joining us for worship these days, people from across the globe are connecting with our strange new worship space.

My prayer is that this time of ferment is creating something new and sacred that will surprise us all. Perhaps you have hope or a vision as we continue together. I hope we can share these hopes with each other in the coming days, weeks, and months.


May God’s peace go with us all in this time of fermentation.

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