Fourth- and fifth-graders at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Olympia, Wash., are learning experientially what it means to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

To prepare for their first communion, the students plant and harvest wheat, working it through all the steps to turn it into flour to make communion bread.

The brainchild of Beth Tobin, children’s ministry director at Gloria Dei, the Communion Instruction and Wheat Harvesting Milestone Ministry lets students plant wheat seeds every spring on land owned by members Dennis and Judith Longnecker. Months later the students harvest the wheat, and grind and process it so they can bake bread. The six to eight loaves of flatbread will be used for their first communion.

“It’s powerful learning,” said Tobin, who estimates that 75 children have gone through the program since she started it in 2002.

Fifth-grader John Paul Fox Seidel said he liked learning this way: “It was interactive and fun. It was a lot of work but also fun. We got to shake all the seeds, cover it over, press the dirt down and wait for it to grow.”

He looks forward to watching the wheat grow on a webcam that Longnecker installed, and making the bread when the wheat is harvested.

“It was interactive and fun. It was a lot of work but also fun.” —  John Paul Fox Seide, a fifth-grader

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Doug Knutson-Keller, a pastor of Gloria Dei. “It not only gives them a real hands-on experience and brings that Bible story to life, but they’re playing a role in the reality of where our food comes from and how bread is made, both now and back in Jesus’ day.”

Open communion

Gloria Dei has open communion, he said, which allows families to decide when they want their children to participate in the eucharist even before they are confirmed. When a family thinks their child is ready, they all meet with the pastor at that time to talk about communion. The wheat planting is an additional aspect of the congregation’s communion instruction and education.

As the students plant and harvest the wheat, they learn about communion and read A Place For You: My Holy Communion Book by Daniel Erlander.

“We use the first half of the book to discuss communion instruction, and we have a few hours in the morning to talk about what communion is and how it fits into faith life,” Knutson-Keller said. “Then we put on our boots, grab the seeds and go into the field. We throw some seed and even put some on rocks purposely so it won’t grow. Then we spend [time] answering their questions and connecting reaping and sowing with our Bible stories.

“When the seed of the word of God lands on rocky ground, it doesn’t work. You can see [the kids’] minds going to some in-depth places. When we come back in the fall, we use clippers and scythes and bundle the wheat, bring it on the deck, thrash the wheat on a tarp, take the chaff and toss it in the air and let it blow away. Then we grind the seed by hand, turn it into flour and make the bread. The whole time we’re connecting it to doing it all by hand.”

This project is only possible, Tobin said, because of the Longneckers’ generosity.

“Each year, Dennis drives to Eastern Washington to get the wheat seeds, prepares the field, and sets up the water system and the wheat cam,” she said. “When the grinder breaks, he orders a new one. And he and his wife, Judith, are always so cheerful about us gathering around their dining table for communion instruction and baking the communion bread in their kitchen. We are most certainly blessed.”

Longnecker, who cares for the 20-by-50 wheat garden on his 5 acres, said he enjoys doing it: “I get pure joy—and the best tasting wheat bread once a year.”

For more information, visit gloriadea/kids.org.

To view the live wheat web cam, click here.

Gloria Dei communion bread recipe

(makes 6 loaves)

3 cups wheat flour
1 ½ cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil
1 ½ cups hot water
¼ cup honey
¼ cup molasses

Sift the dry ingredients. Cut in the oil using a pastry blender. In a separate container, mix the honey, molasses and hot water. Add to dry ingredients. Form into six equal-sized balls. Press the balls onto a cookie sheet to make ¼-inch thick loaves. Score the top of the bread. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Brush with oil, bake 5-8 minutes longer.

Wendy Healy
Healy is a freelance writer and member of Trinity Lutheran Church, N.Y. She served as communications director for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York following the 9/11 attacks.

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