I’ve enjoyed cooking ever since I watched my grandmother coax flour, oil, onions, and water into smooth, rich homemade gravy. On holidays, I observed my father, watching his masterful hands birth cakes, carve meats, and arrange trays. On any other day, my mother expertly drew delicious flavor from squashes, greens, potatoes, peas, or whatever she laid her hand upon in the pantry. In my family, there was and still is banter about who is best at cooking this or that. As I grew older, I developed my own style and flavor profiles and relied on cooking to help redirect my difficult emotions. The creativity, the aroma, the finished dishes filled me with joy.
Until very recently, however, I had all but hung up my apron. My life is extremely full, you see. Like most pastors, I face the challenge of creating harmony out of a cacophony of obligations, stressors, and personal needs. Sunday morning comes every Sunday, and only pastors know how terrifying that can be. Leading authentically, prophetically, and encouragingly from week to week often feels like a roller coaster ride, complete with exhilarating highs, terrifying descents, and abrupt turns that make me question why I ever said yes to this crazy call to ministry.
That’s the norm. Stir in the administrative, planning, and fiduciary responsibilities of pastoral ministry and you can understand why every day brings with it a certain degree of angst. But none my ordinary problems compare to the challenges that I’ve faced due to COVID-19, which has transformed the landscape of our nation. Thankfully, our church leadership team embraces my vision for collaborative leadership. We share power and authority so that we can use our gifts to minister to others and share the gospel. They have made coping with COVID easier for me – in weekly meetings, they take the lead on matters of planning, stewardship, and administration so that I can focus on the ministry of the word and prayer. Every day, I chose to let go and trust the Spirit to work through them as she works through me. Now, I realize that before COVID-19, I only let go when I had to, but this pandemic has taught me a blessed lesson: letting go is the best thing I can do.
So, while we chart the unfamiliar waters of virtual worship, CDC guidelines, and ministry from a distance, I find myself back in the kitchen, pulling out pots and pans, creating new dishes that pop with flavor. This is my personal protest, my alternative-story against the backdrop of a global crisis threatening to shrink our lives by driving us indoors and shattering our familiar rhythms. Fresh meats, veggies, aromatic spices, fruits, and sauces are the alphabet of my love language. I combine them in pots and pans, fryers and crockpots, Dutch ovens and casserole dishes until the flavor is exactly right. Suddenly, my ordinary kitchen becomes a therapeutic sanctuary. And right there, in a global pandemic, I find peace.
Rev. Dr. Latonya Agard is pastor of Bazzel Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.