Tasty Delights and Remedies
From Compton First United Methodist Church, Compton, 2001
The Compton First United Methodist Church (originally the Compton Methodist Episcopal Church) was founded on the second Sunday of April, 1868 - roughly one year after wagon-train settlers first arrived in the area. G.D. Compton, the city’s namesake, was a founding Church trustee.
In 1910, the LA Times wrote of the Church, which was putting the finishing touches on a new building; “The Compton Methodist Church is one of the oldest of the denomination in Los Angeles County, and the present church building is probably the oldest Protestant edifice in Southern California.” (pictured, on Willowbrook Ave.) As the congregation grew, it moved a few times, finally landing at its current location at 1025 Long Beach Blvd.
Throughout the decades, the demographics of Compton, and as a result the demographics of the Compton United Methodist Church, changed. Founded by white American settlers, the City originally supported restrictive real-estate tactics designed to keep out non-white residents. Nevertheless, Compton became home to a significant Japanese immigrant farming population in the 1920s, which thrived until the traumas of internment during WWII.
By the 1950s, racist housing covenants had been dissolved and black, middle-class families began to move into the area. Starting in the 1970s, the Church also serves a local Tongan population, hosting services in the Tongan language.
The community’s changing demographics also lead to a diversity of food offerings, with home cooking and family recipes sometimes growing into local restaurants. In his introduction to this cookbook, Rev. Dr. Odis Fentry writes;
“Whenever and wherever people gather food is usually one of the primary reasons or focus of the gathering. Food provides nourishment for our bodies but when we gather around food it also becomes a subject of conversation.”
Food as nourishment and food as connector. Check out the “Pictured Recipe” section of this entry to read more from another former Compton FUMC pastor on the topic of theology, food, and empowerment.
Black & white architectural photo, 1905, from the USC Digital Library
Rev. Dr. Christopher Carter, who was Senior Pastor of the Church from 2010 to 2012, preaches and writes about the relationship between food, theology and oppression.
In an interview with Duke University’s “Leading Voices In Food” Podcast, Rev. Dr. Carter explained;
"What I did is, as a senior pastor at a black church, I never ate first. I always ate last and I always help prepare and serve the food. And I do this rooted out of Jesus's parable of washing disciples' feet and talk about our role as clergy to model service. And what that looks like. And then frame it around food as one primary means by which we actually can serve others, literally serve them food. But also help people who, especially the church I worked at--this was in Compton, California, we're in a very poor city with a lot of homeless and we had several unsheltered people come to our church, especially on first Sundays where we had potlucks. And they knew that and they were welcome. And so first and foremost, you have to, I would argue, you do have to model it in order to get people to be able to see that you, as the leader of this space, take this seriously. And you're trying to set a tone for creating a welcoming and inclusive space and environment. And that can be done through plates. The second way, I guess I would say, I help people think theologically about food...
I always like to use the example of our, our bowls are griots and griots [in the West African tradition] are storytellers. And so what we serve tells a story. Often a story that is passed down from our grandmothers or mothers or fathers or whoever was the cook. There's something there that says something about us. And so when we serve food at church, what story does it tell you? Does it feel something's been missing from that story? I think if we are people of faith, if we were supposed to be about compassion and justice, I don't know that our food shares that story, right? That we serve if we haven't thought theologically about where that food comes from. Who's growing it? And who may or may not be suffering as a consequence of it.
And so if we want to model that and share it, it's not just a saying. It's not so much to make sure that you acquire food from good suppliers to feel good about yourself. Right? It's really about actually naming that. So the people who are eating know that you've thought about these things. Most, especially if you're in a predominantly African American church, our ancestors come from agriculture. So you know, you're maybe a generation or two removed from people who are farmers and they can relate to that. My experience is they respect that and they honor that and there's a meaning there. And so helping them reconnect with those stories of their childhood. Modeling that particular kind of service, helping them understand that our bowls and plates tell a story about who we are and who we want to be in the communities that we belong to be a part of. I think this is essential into the first steps of getting people to think theologically about food."
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