When we started Bread for the Journey in 1987, I was barely two years out of the seminary.
I graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1985, and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was blessed to find a spiritual home in a newly formed, passionate church community, started by an inspired – and inspiring – group of people. Most were deeply engaged in serving the complex needs of the multi-cultural community of Santa Fe. I was soon called to serve as their part-time pastor and spiritual director, to walk beside them, to help deepen their mission and work.
In 1986, precisely one year after I first entered the church, my teacher, mentor and friend Henri Nouwen traveled from Toronto to preach at my ordination service. His message to me that day was clear, unambiguous: “Wayne: This spiritual call you follow, this journey you undertake, will be one of downward mobility.” Jesus’ life was one deeply rooted among those who lived close to the ground. I would soon learn how potent and unassailable that message would be.
Because the church was small, I began a small private counseling practice to supplement my income. My office was quickly filled with a vast array of people from every conceivable culture, background, race, and sexual orientation. I found myself spending my days volunteering with people at or below the poverty line – and, along with these brave, proud, struggling families, I also saw increasing numbers of young men. And women.
Many of whom were dying.
It was the beginning of what would become the height of the AIDS epidemic – something that would permanently change the demographics of Santa Fe. Waves of young, creative, vital young men and women were leaving New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco for a place to retreat, to heal – and, for far too many, to die – in a place that seemed to offer some promise of serenity, refuge, peace.
Neither poverty nor death suffer fools gladly. The grit and humility of our own powerlessness over events far beyond our dominion serves to concentrate our mind, focus the heart upon only those things that are true and important, beautiful and necessary. These most essential human qualities lift us up, and claim our soul’s best attention.
It was in this environment, in a world surrounded by powerlessness and the unmistakable brevity of our mortality, that Bread for the Journey was born. In a time and a place when we were forced to take note of small things. Because in the end – whether in the form of a mustard seed, leaven in the bread, a kind word, an offer of companionship, or a meal prepared and shared with great love – small things matter. We began a program of micro-granting, years before anyone knew what such a thing could be.
At that time, the simple touch of a hand, whether offered or accepted, was a fiercely poignant, radical act – particularly when those hands were deemed untouchable, unworthy, by a world deeply confused, lost in fear, its compassion choked by terror of the unknown.
As a member of our Bread for the Journey extended family, I look forward to sharing these and many other stories with you. The threads of continuity that bind us together are woven out of a few simple precepts, ways of working which have stood the test of time. When we began, our precepts were clear, and few:
➢ Keep it simple.
➢ Fund people, not projects.
➢ Trust in authentic relationships, rather than proposals.
➢ Small is beautiful.
➢ Start with a strength assessment, not a needs assessment.
This year – our twenty-eighth – we have recommitted ourselves to those true, beautiful things that have kept us alive, vital and thriving in a variety of ways. Each of our chapters, each of our volunteers, the people on our national board, are all in an ongoing conversation. To harvest together whatever learnings will serve our chapters and our communities.
And, as always, to support the natural generosity of ordinary people who ache to serve their community and their world, with small, meaningful acts of passionate wisdom and loving companionship.
Many chapters have requested that all our chapters meet together at least twice a year by conference call – to listen to, and be with, one another. To have frank, honest, open discussions among everyone who helps our BFJ community succeed. In this way, we can feel ourselves as a real, tangible community, in real time, without having to wait for a once-a-year gathering to engage one another. On these calls, anyone can ask, or celebrate, or wonder, or contribute, to a community-wide common wealth, a shared harvest.
This is the beginning of a new phase of Bread for the Journey. Small, simple, generous. And often, miraculous.
I feel honored and privileged to share our continuously evolving, surprising, delightfully emerging stories in the days, and weeks, and seasons to come.
With love, gratitude, and deep appreciation to you all,
Founder and President
Bread for the Journey