Hanna Hart: A Sanctuary of Pots and Pans

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Hanna Clements-Hart returns to her church but she finds sanctuary in a place you wouldn't expect.

As the Bay Area continues to reopen, one place that I have gone back to is church. After months of Zoom, it’s great to gather with people for spiritual connection, music, and reflection in the beautiful sanctuary with its soaring ceilings and stained glass.

But my favorite place at church is the kitchen. There’s something about kitchens in houses of worship. Regardless of denomination, the kitchen is the beating heart of the community. Large coffee urns pump out gallons of just drinkable coffee, the big stove’s pilot lights, like eternal flames, keep the kitchen warm on cold days, and the fridge holds leftover sheet cake, a partial casserole, and items labeled, “save for board meeting.”

There are giant soup pots, stacks of baking trays and a hodge-podge of bowls and platters left behind by members long gone. The drawers are a tangle of utensils but never the one you are looking for— the whisk or the ladle. And there are knives of all sizes, none of them sharp. Every so often, some enterprising soul organizes it all, but then it goes back as it was.

When I’m in a church kitchen, my own or another, I feel the presence of the many women, and some men, who over the years have prepared meals, warmed up covered dishes, and oh, the pans they have scrubbed! The souls of congregation members who missed the sermon so that the food would be ready and hot when the service ended. Those who showed up before sunrise to serve breakfast to the winter shelter or on Saturday to hand out groceries at the food pantry. I feel their presence—solid folks who knew that the real reason many of us come to church is not the sermon but the fellowship. Their voices and laughter linger in the air.

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The kitchen was where I made my first church friends, shoulder to shoulder, chatting as we chopped and cooked. Shared work made conversation flow easier than at coffee hour, and I felt at home. The church kitchen is a sanctuary of its own.

With a Perspective, this is Hanna Clements-Hart.

Hanna Clements-Hart is an executive coach in San Francisco.