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Bridgette Weber Finds the through Lines—Food and Transformation—at United

Breakfast time crop 2

At United, a supportive community of beloved students and faculty, is an integral part of the educational journey for future faith and justice leaders. Since coming to seminary and charting a path toward chaplaincy, dual degree student Bridgette Weber (bottom right) has not only been elected to the Student Leadership Collective twice, they have also worked with another student to support and sustain United students with Sunday evening United Family Dinners. United has also helped them uncover their purpose-filled throughlines from food to social transformation to justice through food sovereignty. 

The connection between food and church is not anything new. Church potlucks, coffee and sweets between services, and pizza nights for youth groups are a familiar part of the landscape. As a seminary student, Bridgette is digging deeper to explore the broad historical import of food in culture, and how that connects to theological study. They are also developing a fundamental awareness of how issues of environment and justice and religion all intersect with the natural resources that sustain or degrade all life.

Working toward United & Social Justice Ministry

Bridgette’s connection to food started early. Their first job, at age 14, was at Taco Bell. Next, at Chilton, Wisconsin’s 7 Angels Restaurant, Bridgette worked with their mom and sisters and had their first experience working in the back of the house.

chef 3After growing up in a small Wisconsin town and attending rural Catholic churches, Bridgette was eager to see what their future might hold. They started college at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, continued working in restaurants, dropped out of college, returned, and ultimately earned a bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies. During college, Bridgette also found their “passion for building vibrant communities with food at the center.”

While studying biology and ecology, Bridgette worked in the community. They were a farmer and chef, managed Trust Local Foods (as the only employee), joined the Sustainable Living Roadshow as a green market manager, and founded the Oshkosh Food Cooperative which finally opened in July 2020.

csa delightAfter college, they were a pastry chef at L’etoile Restaurant—a James Beard award winning farm-to-table establishment in Madison—and worked at Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a grassroots social transformation effort based in Sri Lanka. Bridgette was also a volunteer coordinator for a free clothing center and worked in “crisis management for houseless people.”

All the while, between rejecting the toxic aspects of the restaurant industry, starting their own personal chef business, and searching for purpose, the idea of a vital ministry around food and sustainability as represented by the image of a “food church” kept arising in their mind. “Those two words,” Bridgette explains, “are an anchor to my spiritual calling.”

Why? “Not only do I see food as a sacred intersection between our relationship to the land, water, and each other, but I see how this message of reality was subverted through colonization…and ways the Christian church codified slavery and industrial agriculture. I am drawn to work that moves us toward a dominant culture more in line with the Indigenous worldview of how to grow and manage food.”

When they found United online and discovered the seminary offered programming in Social Transformation, “there was no doubt” they state, “that it was a huge, cosmic, universal, divine YES happening inside of me.” And it was not just the possibility of ministering through food, but a distinctive call to social justice.

Finding Purpose at United & The Path Forward

United, as Bridgette explains, “is a place where I can explore the multitude of who I am.” The seminary enables them to “examine and explore the roots of where I came from—the complex and dynamic and beautiful and traumatizing space that is—while supporting me in an inclusive, welcoming, and affirming place.”

“Those accepting and nurturing aspects of United felt like a gift,” they add.

United Family Dinner croppedThe weekly United Family dinners provide an intentional and safe space for students and their families—and even regular guest President Molly T. Marshall (in a gray tee shirt on the right)—to share in good food and to nurture relationships. The meals are also a centering time to reflect on the values many students hold dear: creation care and sustainability for the planet.

“Right now,” they say, “it’s a sacred place for us to experiment with how food brings us into conversation with the land and our history.” What has been developing from the food church idea, they say, is a “food sovereignty ethic for the beloved community.” This ethic “is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”1

The concept of the food sovereignty ethic, Bridgette suggests, could be a “powerful ethical antidote” for the practice of Christianity long shaped by “dominion theology.”

In simpler terms, Brigette adds, “I think food sovereignty has the power to heal many of our divides if we can invest our time, energy, and money into making it happen. I hope to see the church become a critical player in that transformation. As Dr. Norman Wirzba says, ‘Food is God’s love made nutritious and delicious.’ I think social transformation can be nutritious, delicious, and exciting!”

Bridgettes Mandala from 2021 Art ShowUnited’s focus on art and theology has also allowed Bridgette to express other facets of their artistic side. First introduced to community earth mandalas during her time with Sustainable Living Roadshow, Bridgette created a mandala for the 2021 Symposium Week. They have also used their drawing skills in class assignments, including an art observation of the St. Paul Farmers Market, and an examination of the trinity using artistically rendered sourdough starter, dough, and bread.

Through art, justice, and theology classes, Bridgette has also discovered how gender and sexuality are deeply connected to food. The 2022 summer term, they add, “brought together the articulation and minds of amazing writers and activists and humans who have been forging this path” of actively promoting justice. “That’s the kind of person I want to be.”

The painstaking process of “getting to know deeply who I am,” though challenging, has also enabled Bridgette to lay bare their roots and start to reconcile the past with their goals for the future. The through lines of food and justice make possible the plan to bring the leadership and ministry skills they have gained at United back to the rural areas they left years ago.

“I want unity and connection, and know that building these types of relationships will take care and time and attention. Joy and creative potential are just waiting for us,” Bridgette declares.


1. This is the definition of food sovereignty coined by La Via Campesina in 1996.


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