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Local church’s cookbook keeps congregation ‘engaged and connected’ during pandemic

By Lynn J. Richardson
 In March 2020, Pastor Timothy Ross of Hopwood Memorial Christian Church in Milligan was faced with the difficult decision to close the church’s doors to in-person worship services. He and the leaders of the church decided to live stream services, and almost a year later, the church is still being cautious with no in-person gatherings. 
It has been a challenging time for many churches and especially so for the Hopwood congregation who had also been very active with a flurry of projects to raise funds for a building renovation project undertaken in 2017. The pandemic brought the quilt shows, concerts, meals, theatre productions, bazaars and more to a screeching halt.
Ross found himself not only searching for ways to keep his congregation connected but to keep the building fund moving forward.
The church leaders’ search for ideas led them to take a closer look at the church’s rich history and another Hopwood building project that had taken place 80 years ago.
In the 1930’s, a group of women from the church known as the “King’s Daughters” undertook the fundraising for Hopwood’s massive reconstruction project which included digging a basement by hand, transforming the existing frame into the sanctuary, adding additional rooms and coating the entire church with white fieldstone trucked in from Butler.
In addition to church donations and the contributions of generous benefactors, a good portion of the money raised for that project came as a result of a whole host of creative projects — boxed meals, theatrical productions, calendars — and cookbooks.
“We noticed that their unlikely building project way back in the Depression was sustained not just by incessant work, but also by celebrating the creative gifts of the church,” Ross said. “They planned activities that not only raised funds for the construction, but allowed the congregation to joyfully share and have some fun.”
“We were determined not to let our COVID isolation grind us down with all we lost.”— Pastor Tim Ross, Hopwood Memorial Christian Church
Hoping to continue the church’s fundraising momentum while keeping everyone engaged and connected, the church members decided to create a new edition of the Hopwood cookbook, “The Bountiful Table,” which includes offerings from the past and present.
“This cookbook was a product of the dark days of COVID isolation,” Ross said. “So much of the text was edited during the lockdown of 2020.
“We were determined not to let our COVID isolation grind us down with all we lost,” Ross said. “We encouraged people to garden, build, read, create, share with others. We see this cookbook as a prime example of that creative goodness.”
The job of editing the book went to Gayle Brown of Bristol, Tenn., who is now retired after spending her professional life as the Art Director for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, a children’s book imprint within the larger publishing house, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
“I have been a part of the Hopwood Christian Church for many years,” Brown said. “The Stewardship Committee for the church knew that I had some experience making books and they asked if I might be able to help them with the project. It seemed like a great project and I was trapped at home during a pandemic.
“It was a perfect storm, so I said I would help.” According to Brown, the number of people involved in the project was “staggering,” with over 80 people of all ages contributing to the book in some way. Brown’s artwork also graces the cover and appears elsewhere in the book, alongside the art of Ross’s wife, Marcia Ross, and several other artists of all ages who are part of the church.
“I don’t see this only as a cookbook,” Ross said. “It is an incredible synthesis of the things our congregation cares about: togetherness around the table, creativity in the kitchen, art, history, and appreciation for this corner of creation and of the cultures of the world. This book is a celebration of who we are.”
The cookbook is also a reminder, Ross says, that “we are a part of our mothers and fathers who went before us, and it also highlights the gifts — culinary and creative art — of our kids too. The book is also full of wisdom, from the poetry of our people to thoughtful snippets from people we love to read, people who have influenced our corporate life together.”
The cookbook was printed locally and includes recipes that are tried and true, many of which utilizes ingredients grown in local gardens. It is also a “deeply spiritual” book, Ross says, one that “sees the connections between God and people, our table and our neighbors, our creativity and God’s creativity.
“It invites you to share these gifts of food and table and fellowship with others,” he added. “We are all in this together. The book’s dedication reads: ‘For all who have shared the Hopwood table of hospitality and for all those yet to come.’”
“The Bountiful Table” is available for $20 per copy, and all proceeds go to funding Hopwood’s building program which is nearing its halfway mark. They are available at the church, Hopwood Memorial Christian Church, P.O. Box 149, Milligan College, TN 37682. You also may contact the church or Ross by email or phone: hopwood@hopwoodcc.org, 423-926-1194; or Pastor Tim Ross, tim@hopwoodcc.org.