A Word From Steve Jones
December 10th, 2018
Some of us may over-eat this Christmas…some of us will remember the 1970s ad: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”
In the story of “Babette’s Feast” we discover a beautiful parable of the wonders of Christmas. It was written by Danish writer, Karen Blixem who spent 1914-1931 in British East Africa (Kenya) farming a coffee plantation. She is best known for her book, “Out of Africa”, which was made into the 1985 film, “Out of Africa” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. She returned to Denmark and began writing under the pseudonym, Isak Dinesen and wrote, “Babette’s Feast”. I watched the film adaptation a few years back and was deeply drawn into this parable of God’s wondrous grace at Christmas.
This is a longer blog than normal, but let me tell you the story:
The story is set in an impoverished fishing village off the coat of Norway. The movie locates it in a coastal village in Denmark. The streets are muddy, the roofs are thatched, the village is poor, and the people follow an elderly white-bearded austere Lutheran pastor. The villagers of Norre Vosburg renounce all worldly things, and so they wear black clothing and eat a steady diet of boiled cod and a gruel made of boiled bread and ale.
They met on the Sabbath and sang songs of the “New Jerusalem”, while enduring, even tolerating their life on this earth. The old pastor had two beautiful daughters named Martine (named after the great Reformer, Martin Luther) and a younger daughter named Philipa (named after Luther’s brilliant disciple, Philip Melonchton). The villagers used to attend church just to feast their eyes on these two radiant beauties.
One day a dashing young cavalry officer saw Martine and he wanted to marry her, but she resisted his advances, for she only wanted to care for her aging father. The cavalry officer later married a young aristocrat.
On another occasion the greatest opera singer of the day, a Frenchman named Achille Papin, heard Philipa singing one day and wanted her to come to Paris with him to make her a star. She and her father refused the offer and Papin left dejected.
Fifteen years passed. The old pastor is dead and the two sisters are still unmarried and have attempted to carry on their father’s harsh and austere mission. The little church had splintered due to conflict, and only a few still attend the Sabbath worship services, while the two sisters continue to boil bread for the toothless elders of their church.
One night during a terrible storm the two sisters heard a knock at their door. A woman collapsed at their doorway exhausted, speaking no Danish. She had escaped from Paris during the Civil War. Friends and family had been killed. All she had was a note from the opera singer asking them to kindly take her in. The note said: “Babette can cook.”
They took her in and Babette becomes their cook and housekeeper, and for 12 more years she boils cod and makes gruel for this devout group of Lutheran followers. No one ever talked to Babette of her past life. It came as a great surprise to Martine and Philipa when Babette received her first letter from Paris after living with them for 12 years. Apparently, one of Babette’s friends had continued to purchase her a lottery ticket each year and she had finally won. She had won a windfall of 10,000 francs.
The two women thought Babette would leave them, but much to their surprise she did not.
They had been talking about a celebration to commemorate their father’s 100th anniversary of his birth when Babette’s letter arrived.
Babette requested she be allowed to make the meal for the celebration party. She had never asked a favour in 12 years…now she pleaded.
The two women agreed, but it was secretly agreed among their little religious order that no one would comment or gain pleasure from the meal Babette would create.
One might imagine that a steady diet of boiled cod and gruel would have killed their taste buds anyway.
Babette ordered the groceries and many exotic delicacies arrived.
Amazing sights never seen in this austere village were seen. Work men pushed wheel barrows loaded with crates full of small birds, a cow’s head, truffles, pheasants, other strange creatures, even a huge, live tortoise snaking its head around as it was carried into the kitchen.
On the snowy evening of December 15 the party began! They sat down to a table full of china, silver ware, candles and evergreens. Even the dashing cavalry officer, now a general and over 30 years older, was there. While the villagers tasted these strange dishes one after another they never said a word nor changed their grimed-faced expressions. Babette wondered why they were not enjoying it!
The General, on the other hand, was overcome by the culinary wonders and explosive tastes that passed his lips. He raved about the meal over and over again during the feast. But, something began to happen. The villagers began to enjoy the wondrous feast placed before them. Undeserving of so great a gift lavished before them, they began to warm up to the occasion.
Their blood warmed, their tongues loosened, and they began to speak of the old days. Two brothers confessed to one another and were reconciled. Two women who had not spoken to one another for 10 years began smiling and talked to each other. One little lady burped and a brother next to her yelled: “Hallelujah!” They all laughed…this had not happened in years!
Heady with the moment, overwhelmed by the wondrous gift of the sumptuous meal the General rose to make a speech.
The story ends with old parishioners holding hands around the village fountain and singing lovely songs of their faith. It is really a COMMUNION scene of rejoicing in God’s goodness and grace.
Babette’s feast had opened the gate, but grace had strolled in among a grim-faced group for the first time in years.
The AUTHOR writes: “They felt [for the first time] as if they had indeed had their sins washed white as wool.”
The final scene takes place in the kitchen. Babette sits among pots, pans, carcasses, bones, grease, empty bottles and vegetable trimming. She looks as exhausted as she had 12 years previous on the night she arrived in the storm. She is completely spent looking as exhausted as Jesus might have looked while hanging on His cross. Martine and Philipa complement her on the meal and say they will greatly miss her when she returns to Paris. Babette looks at them and says she doesn’t plan to return to Paris, for she has spent the full 10,000 francs on the meal they had just eaten. The women are immediately jolted by the news of the cost. They had done nothing but let Babette live with them and be the housekeeper and cook, their servant in effect. And now she lavishes this undeserved gift on them!
The cod and the gruel eaters are just beginning to understand the riches of turtle soup and pheasant under glass.
How much is your congregation worth in services to your community? Have you ever thought about that? You should.
A Senate Committee has been studying Canada’s Charity Sector since January 2018. They are to give their report sometime this month. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has mentioned that every Western nation that has done a similar study comes back with significant suggested changes to how government treats charities and religious places of worship.
Churches paying property tax, donors not receiving annual receipts, clergy losing their house allowance benefit, and much more is being considered.
Currently, the Church in Canada has very little quantifiable data that indicates the real added-value our churches have on our communities. We know this is true, but the hard data is very scanty. The Town Council, in each of our cities, need to hear how our churches make a significant socio-economic impact on the community. If they choose to tax churches, impeding them from continuing to offer helpful ministries in the community, what would it cost the city to offer these same services. Sometimes money does talk…loudly.
The Halo Project
Our Fellowship has embarked on a study to discover the socio-economic impact the average Fellowship church has on its community.
Halo Canada will be conducting surveys this Autumn with some of our churches across Canada. A cross section of diverging churches have been chosen by our five Regions including city, suburban, and rural churches along with small, medium, and large churches. The objective is to discover our “Halo project” on a community.
Recent Halo Projects in Canada
In a recent Toronto Halo project of just ten congregations, it was discovered they offered the equivalent of $45.4 million dollars of services to their communities in one year.
In a Halo Canada Project where 30 congregations were studied, it was discovered they offered the equivalent of $69.8 million dollars of services or an average Halo effect of $2.3 on each community. In this study the median attendance of each congregation was 100 with a total of 12,535 worshippers attending these congregations. CLICK HERE if you want to read more about the benefits of Halo project Study.
The Fellowship’s HALO Project
Sphere Research conducted a brief study of the Halo effect of the average Fellowship Church in June 2018. We discovered, using CRA data collected from 420 Fellowship Churches, that our national Halo estimate totals of $417,300,000 (urban: $379.2 million and rural: $38.1 million).
We decided to go deeper by conducting a controlled study to the socio-economic benefit our faith communities (churches) are making on Canada. This will become quantifiable evidence for the federal, provincial, and municipal governments as they make decisions concerning the charitable sector in Canada. Our Fellowship Halo Project should be complete in the spring of 2019.
Our Halo researcher mentioned that the average property tax bill on the average congregation in Canada could be in the range of $150,000 per annum. This would adversely affect many of our churches in offering many ministries to their communities. For some congregations, it would close their doors for good.
WHY DO WE NEED THIS INFORMATION
The times are changing! Let’s never get distracted from accomplishing our primary mission (making disciples). However, we need to address the society we live in and its growing Christian- amnesia. Civic authorities need evidence, hard data, that the church in Canada is making a huge impact on our communities. Last year the Halo effect of the charitable/church sector in Canada was $17.7 billion in socio-economic benefit. That is equivalent to 1.1% of Canada’s GDP. Next to the federal government, religious institutions are the largest land holders in Canada at $16.7 billion with $4.2 billion revenue raised through donations.
Charities and churches make a massive impact in Canada. Our politicians need to hear about the good deeds that happen daily without using a single tax dollar from government coffers. The Fellowships Halo Project will be a tool to help communicate this truth.
Have a blessed Week,