Volunteers of the Chinese New Year bake which include Shirley (fourth from left) and, Feifei, (third from left) with their creations – heart-shaped pineapples tarts and coconut kisses (above) Photo by Darren Boon
Some regular items that Five Loaves bake – an upside down cake (left) and biscotti (extreme right) Photos by Church of St. Mary of the Angels
SINGAPORE – Women’s chatter and peals of laughter punctuate the bake room as the occasional ‘squeal’ from the ovens jostles for attention.
In the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year, the ovens were working twice as hard as members of ‘Five Loaves’, a baking ministry at the parish of St. Mary of the Angels, readied cookies for sale to parishioners.
These came in flavours such as almond and coconut and included heart-shaped pineapple tarts.
The sales figures have been good, Feifei Han told CatholicNews, as she prepared to bake a batch of ‘almond hearts’ for volunteers to take home. Feifei is a pioneer of Five Loaves, but has since passed the baton on to Ann Soh, a homemaker in her 40s.
This is the first year that Five Loaves is baking New Year-themed cookies for parishioners. Usually the weekend goodies include muffins, cakes, breads and pastries, which are sold in the parish canteen (called ‘Two Fish’) or at the piazza where parishioners gather after Mass.
According to parish priest Franciscan Father John-Paul Tan, each weekend’s takings are estimated to be about $300 which goes towards parish maintenance.
But it’s not about the money, Father John-Paul said. Rather it’s about getting parishioners to contribute their talents into building the community.
The ministry came about because the parish wanted to meaningfully engage senior citizens or those free during the day, said Father John-Paul, adding the ministry “adds to a community spirit of ownership of the parish”.
Volunteers were attracted to the ministry because it combines their interest in baking, a chance to serve the church, and an opportunity to meet new friends.
Each week, a team of four to six ladies bakes on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from morning till late afternoon. On Sunday, eight to 10 ministry members start as early as 6.00am so as have the goodies freshly-baked ready for parishioners.
Five Loaves regular Beverly Wong, 33, said that the ministry combines her love of baking, communication and connecting God’s people with food. The full-time public relations manager said that she has learnt humility and patience in service.
She said, “As our members come from various walks of life with different baking experiences, we learnt to disregard our individual expectations and differences and focus on one thing – service to others.”
Although each session begins with prayer, Beverly sheepishly admitted that at times, hectic baking schedules have caused volunteers neglect prayer to focus on deadlines. However, she has observed that with prayer, God has always provided such as in the form of volunteers who faithfully return week after week to help out.
Ann said that the volunteers have gotten to know each other quite well. Conversations usually revolve around experiences in the week, families, cooking tips, retirement, but sometimes include sharings of how God has been active in their lives.
“All the conversations and sharing are opportunities to minister to and help each other, as we encourage each other, pray for each other, and importantly help each other laugh over human idiosyncrasies and abrasions that we experience,” said Ann.
Shirley Lee, 55, signed up as an additional volunteer during this busy period with the intention of just wanting to bake. However, as the days progressed, working alongside other volunteers she had not known before motivated her to join in the fellowship as “everyone are sisters in Christ”.
“We come in happy, but we leave happier,” she said.
For the Lunar New Year bake, the volunteers worked on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays with some spending a few hours. Feifei, however, stayed on for about 12 hours each day.
Did these hours spent in church compromise quality time with her family? Feifei didn’t think so. Both her children are grown-up, and her husband Mr Chua too, has been supportive of her work. He helps out as a driver and deliveryman.
Not all the volunteers are experienced or skilled in baking, but they are willing to learn, Feifei said, adding that she assigns tasks to volunteers based on their strengths.
Shirley chipped in, “Just like that the Church is made up of different parts coming together as one to make up the Body of Christ, so is this baking ministry.”
For example, those who are good in handiwork will help in glazing the cookies or decorating the cookies while some will watch over the oven which in itself a full-time task.
Even as this conversation was going, the background was a flurry of activity.
With precision, one volunteer fashioned buttery dough into little balls and then weighed them. Another dressed the balls in desiccated coconut, while a third dextrously and with utmost concentration patiently used toothpicks to gently adorn each ball with a tiny sliver of red cherry.
Added Feifei: “The Holy Spirit inspires all of us and works within us so that we can work together as a team.”
Baking is an art, said Feifei, emphasising the importance of every step of the baking process. A failure in one step leads to an unsuccessful product, she said, pointing to a batch of overcooked pineapple tarts. Its chocolate-brown exterior should have been a glowing golden hue, and the pineapple jam inside was not as moist as it should have been.
Each failure has been a learning experience for its members, but the perfumed fragrance of the bonding of butter and caramelising of sugar diffused in the air is a reminder that the sweetness of the ministry extends beyond what comes out of the oven.
By Darren Boon