A Review of
Finding God in a Bag of Groceries:
Sharing Food, Discovering Grace
Laura Lapins Willis
Reviewed by Denise Frame Harlan
After handing out a bag of groceries in the church food pantry, Laura Lapins Willis offers to show her church sanctuary to a client, and then Laura demonstrates how communion is served. The unchurched woman asks rapturously if Laura could please, please baptize her right there and then. But in Laura’s church, only ordained priests are allowed to baptize new believers. Witnesses are needed, a congregation is needed.
Laura herself is struggling: is handing out groceries in the name of Jesus enough? What is the difference between offering loaves of bread in paper bags, and offering wafers of bread at the kneeling rail? Both are callings—is one calling better than another?
Oddly enough, the baptismal font is filled with water, ready, waiting.
“Throughout this struggle, God never made it clear what I should do. Yet God endowed me with the power to love, no matter what my job title was…”
In Finding God in a Bag of Groceries, Laura tells the story of many young professionals: she left a high-powered job in the city to become the at-home parent of two boys in a smaller town. She took a job administering a food pantry for her church because the job needed to be done, and it fit her schedule. Laura had never met any poor people before, and she didn’t think poor people would like her very much.
Then she finds herself deep in pastoral conversations about money and food and families. Because she is naturally pastoral, people assume Laura is a priest, herself. She packs her trunk with a bag of groceries, like an old-fashioned calling card, and drives to visit her parishioners. Everybody needs groceries, and everybody needs prayer.
In this accessible memoir, Laura Lapins Willis explores every Christian’s question about the call to minister to those in need. She looks unsentimentally at the difficulties of rural poverty, and she looks even closer at the spiritual poverty of middle-class believers like us. How much do we really allow ourselves to know the poor neighbors in our midst? Laura makes her case that we, God’s people, are the ones who will find God in a bag of groceries as we drive deep into the wilderness of our own souls for the sakes of our neighbors.
Finding God in a Bag of Groceries would be excellent reading for college students, for at-home parents making a transition back to work, for churches and for study groups.
While attending The Glen Workshop in western Massachusetts, I pounded Laura Lapins Willis with questions before reading the book: did she baptize the woman? Did she become ordained? Like a true professional, she told me I’d need to read the book. And I’m very glad for her reserve. You will need to read the book, too.
Watch the book trailer video: