In the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, verse 35, Jesus said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” That scripture has become the inspiration and vision for outdoor bread ovens among some two dozen churches in Minnesota. Salem Lutheran Church in Longville is one of those churches. As a result of contact with and information obtained from The Community Brick Oven Resource Center and a bread oven ministry seminar sponsored by the White Bear Lake United Methodist Church in the spring of 2017, the Bread Ministry was formed in response to interest in finding new ways to bring us together as a community.  We are currently the 27th bread oven ministry in operation in the state of Minnesota and are excited to explore different ways the bread can be used to benefit Longville, as well as adding pretzel and pizza events in the future.  

   Within the church both bread and pizza events occur as fund raisers and activities for the youth to support church needs and other causes.  But other outreach activities include community and focused pizza events for civic groups, bread baking involving the local schools (including field trips to the oven), scouts, bread baking classes and inviting people to bring their own bread dough to bake, share with others and learn together.

   The Stronger Together Action Team completed the construction of the outdoor bread oven in 2020 and baked the first bread in it for Salem’s annual congregation meeting in September 2020. The next bread baking event occurred for Veteran’s Day where loaves of fresh baked bread were given to veterans, their families and friends at a bread drive-thru in Salem’s parking lot. In 2021, the team typically baked up to three kinds of bread at the beginning of each month as fund raisers for different causes including, but not limited to, ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Relief, Salem’s Educational Scholarship Fund, Longville Foodshelf, the Women of Salem, and the Stronger Together Action Team itself to raise funds to help low-income neighbors with home and property repair needs. Each monthly bake includes enough white bread for use during communion at Sunday worship services. Congregants can enjoy one or more loaves of bread for a free-will donation they wish to make at the conclusion of the first Sunday in the month’s worship service.

   Salem’s bread oven is located a short distance from the church’s kitchen across a small auxiliary parking area. The location facilitates both the making of the bread dough in the kitchen and baking it in the oven. Salem has a full-service kitchen with all the equipment, utensils, pans and racks, consumable supplies, counters and sinks and a dishwasher to accommodate the preparation of the bread (or pizza) dough for whatever kinds of bread baked and number of loaves. The oven is medium size occupying an eight by ten-foot piece of level ground and can bake up to 20 loaves of bread at a time depending on the size/shape of the loaves. A typical bread bake can produce between 60 and 80 loaves. A separate wood shed has just been built a few feet from the oven to house the hard wood logs needed for heating the oven.

   Firing up the oven is done a day in advance of the baking so the brick interior is properly heated on the sides, top and the shelf. Dried hard wood logs are placed inside the oven, lighted and burned to coals. Once the burning is done inside the oven, the coals are pushed out into a trough at the oven’s mouth where they fall into an ash bin for later removal. The oven shelf is then washed with a wet rag mop to remove any remaining ashes. 

   The process of preparing the bread dough in the kitchen and then baking it requires the support of several people working together. There is a fire starter and oven prep person, one or more dough makers, one or more dough cutters and loaf shapers, a baker, and one or more clean up persons. 

Salem’s kitchen gets busy early the Saturday before the bread is to be available in church on Sunday. Early on Saturday morning, the dough makers arrive, mix the dough for the first of the different kinds to be baked and then allow the dough to rise. Then a second batch of dough is mixed and allowed to rise as well. Finally, the third batch (if necessary) is mixed and allowed to rise. Successively each batch of raised dough is poured on to a counter top, cut into designated sizes and put either in proofing baskets or baking pans. The loaves are then taken on trays out to the oven and slid into the oven one-by-one on a peel (paddle). The loaves not in pans are taken out of the baskets and placed directly on the oven shelf; the other loaves stay in the pans. The oven door is closed during the baking.  As the loaves are baked and tested for being done, they are removed from the oven with the peel, placed on trays and taken to the kitchen for cooling on racks. The cooled loaves are packaged in clear bags and on Sunday morning put on a table in the church for the congregants to enjoy upon leaving a free-will donation.

   As Salem’s Bread Oven Ministry progresses and members become more experienced at making, baking and disbursing the different kinds of bread within the church, the communal aspects of the ministry will take shape. Salem’s Bread Oven Ministry will become known and available to the larger community, including other churches, and the invitation to come and partake of the ministry’s sustenance, social and spiritual benefits will open to everyone. 

   This year in lieu of Salem’s Annual Wednesday at the Well Veteran’s Dinner, the Bread Oven Ministry and the Women of Salem are teaming up for a free bread and chili event. On Thursday, November 11th from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. (or until we run out of bread and chili) simply drive-thru Salem’s parking lot, stop at the front doors and we will bring a loaf of bread and serving of chili to you thanking any Veteran or friends of Veterans.