Joan Stock
Joan Stock was one of a handful present “from before the beginning” of Bread of Life. She and I shared a mutual passion for ‘spiritual formation,’or the practices and processes that help a person grow into their innate spiritual capacity. We each perceived that something’ was knocking on the door and met monthly for two years to pray for openness to whatever it might be. In the mysterious ways of Spirit, as Bread of Life bpicture of Mary and Elizabethecame a possibility for me through Davis Community Church where I was on staff (more about that story next month).  Joan’s life changed and she became available to help birth the baby. Over the next 7 years she served at Bread of Life as a spiritual director, board member, retreat leader, faculty member, prayer-partner, colleague and friend.
 
On the day Bread of Life was dedicated Joan presented me with an icon of Mary & Elizabeth with the following inscription: “As we dedicate the Bread of Life Center we realize the fulfillment of a dream for both of us. It must have been something like that for Mary & Elizabeth… knowing without a doubt that the fulfillment was only Grace.

May all we do here be Grace-filled!”                --Sandra Lommasson


                                                                     
 
You helped pray BOL into existence beginning a couple years before it opened the doors in 1997. Looking back, what most stands out in your mind about how it all began?

Surprise!!

I was surprised to meet you at the Spiritual Directors meeting in Burlingame, surprised to discover that we had a mutual interest in spiritual formation as a primary focus of ministry, surprised we had similar dreams for a retreat house or spiritual center of some sort. Though I was in Sacramento and you were in Davis, and we were both spiritual directors [there weren’t many of us then], we didn’t know about one another until that day. I remember us going down to the Zen room to pray and then deciding to meet monthly to listen for what God might want to do with all these ‘coincidences.’

Then a couple of years later, I was surprised that the session [governing body of a Presbyterian church] had not only encouraged your vision, but was willing to support it! And, I was personally surprised by the timing for me. It happened just when I had left Fremont Church and was very open to something more. God obviously had a hand in this and was surprised by joy! For me that quality of surprise points to the genuineness of what is moving.

 
It was spring 1997 when Bread of Life was first approved in concept – with the doors finally ready to open the following August. We were commissioned to this new work during a worship service in September 1997, and the Center was officially dedicated later that day. But in those months in between there was a mountain of work…

Yes, in the beginning it took an amazing combination of provision and effort. We were provided a space. We were provided financial support. We both had directees we could bring immediately into the mix to help support the work. And then other like-minded people kept coming. There was the formation of a board and then struggling to figure out how the board would work. Trying to set a direction and focus when there were so many nuts and bolts to put together was a huge challenge.

Meanwhile, I remember the trips to used furniture places and Sears to buy stuff for the rooms - carpets, lamps, chairs. In truth, much of the furniture was pretty uncomfortable but the right price. Rocking chairs were my thing and I said ‘We have to have rocking chairs! [One entire room became ‘the rocking chair room’], and of course rocking chairs need cushions. It was a collaborative effort.

 
 Who are the people who particularly stand out as you look back?

I am especially grateful to people from the wider community such as Bob Tate who was instrumental in helping get our finances in order and Cindy Burger who provided administrative support. There were also board members who came from session and the general community – Ken Schwartentraub, Karin Nilsson, and Dallas Banks come to mind.

Soon more spiritual directors joined us and the offerings and numbers kept expanding. First, Sharon Sauer came, then Marjorie Hoyer-Smith, then Ron Lagerstrom – all pastors looking for a new form of ministry.

From the beginning the focus was on spiritual formation or ways our spiritual lives are formed, and not on information. Each of us had particular passions within that overall focus. Sharon had a passion for practices that support the spiritual lives of children and the homeless of Friendship Park. Marjorie saw formation necessarily belonging to the whole body.  Each person brought their gifts and added to a growing sense of community.

One of the surprising and wonderful coincidences that helped draw attention to what was happening was an article in the Sacramento Bee about spiritual direction. How did that come about?

I had been one of a group of pastors and others responding to ethical questions for a regular column in the Sacramento Bee, and I had also been serving as a spiritual director at a Samaritan Counseling Center in Sacramento. The editor wanted more information on this thing called spiritual direction.

Spiritual direction in all its forms – sitting with a person one on one or offering retreats or forming others to serve as spiritual directors through the internship that began in 1998 - was my primary focus with Bread of Life. I began offering silent retreats at Silver Penny farm where people could come away and reflect and pray as well as retreats to nourish local pastors.
 
I love seeing what happens in people’s lives when they are touched by Spirit. What comes is such a wonderful surprise.

Again, you were surprised by the Spirit…

Yes. And we (the staff) also continued to pray together weekly. It’s both. Bread of Life was founded on prayer…it’s always been not just your ministry or my ministry but God’s with us. I remember part of that intentional focus was having meetings and gatherings at my house for board and staff for our own times of retreat and reflection.
 
You were also part of the faculty team that started the new spiritual direction internship in 2003…

Yes, I’d had the experience of working with the earlier Bread of Life internship with Sr. Mary Ann Scofield and Sr. Kathleen Dunne. Kathleen was a particular delight for me.

After having the experience of the first program, I really appreciated when we took time out to talk about what would be most effective design of a program in the forming of new directors, and what more needed to be done. I learned a lot! I remember along the way learning how to be discerning in evaluation of those participating in the program. It’s a hard, important, ultimately kind thing to do
I loved working with the team that formed in 2003. It was collaborative and based in recognizing each other’s gifts. For me it was a time of growing in recognition of gift. I was fortunate to work with people who were who were interested in helping each one of us develop our particular gifts.

 

A particular passion for you was the supervision of spiritual directors. [Supervision is a process helps directors look more deeply at themselves and at what opens or blocks their capacity to tend the Spirit in another person.]

I have a passion for supervision. Our initial groups were learning the process of taking what you know a step deeper and not being afraid to look at what is really going on inside. Supervision with other directors is held in a contemplative way so that new awarenesses of ‘who I am’ can emerge. It’s not a counseling thing where the focus is on a problem. It’s about being human, waiting for the emerging spirit and trusting that it will be to mutual benefit. That’s the purpose, to take it a step deeper and move toward the real.

As you think back, what has been most important to you in the work of Bread of Life and your connection to it?

One of the important gifts would be the collaborative way in which we worked. Our sense of call was to work with a common value around the importance of spiritual formation. Even more, there was the sharing and acknowledgement of gifts. And there’s something precious in seeing the emerging life of Spirit in the people who come seeking something more and who really engage the process. I don’t think that could happen without a truly collaborative effort founded in prayer that is the foundation for everything else. That’s the anchor.

What would you say to someone considering coming here?

If you are coming as a directee, come prepared to encounter a blessing, a grace. If you are considering coming on staff – come if you hold common value for collaboration and if you feel your gifts can be used and you desire to enter into the surprise of God’s work.

Is there anything further you’d like to share?

There have been many shifts and changes over time in the way Bread of Life does ministry, many since I’ve retired. Adding the Spirit in the Arts Center [as a different way of spiritual practice with a different audience] was one of them. The time when Bread of Life incorporated as a non-profit separate from the church was another big change. There was some conflict that went with that transition and yet learning to engage it was a learning experience that had grace in it. In retrospect that was the most difficult period for me. When the conflict emerged it was something we hadn’t dealt with before. I learned a lot about myself and Bread of Life through that period.
 
What did you learn?

I learned that it’s important to confront the issues directly and in an attitude of prayer. I learned it’s important to do one’s own personal work in a time of conflict and to look at places where I was wrong and where I’ve grown. I learned it’s important to look at the spiritual dynamics of what is going on and to bring what is inside each person out into the open because none of us can see the whole picture.

I love Rachel Naomi Remen’s story of when she was a little girl, hiding the dark pieces of a jigsaw puzzle because they scared her. And then later learning how necessary each piece was to the whole picture! This tells me that so many have held the pieces of the puzzle that is the Bread of Life and all are needed for the whole picture to emerge.

Being with Bread of Life was my last place of work before retirement and I am grateful for the experience. I continue to be surprised by the provision that came, and grateful for the opportunity to be part of what has emerged here. I am especially grateful for the relationships and for the opportunity to grow into this ministry and to help others grow. Frederick Buechner’s wonderful quote says it best for me.