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Cooks are preparing for the Union Missionary Baptist Church Hogshead traditional hogshead dinner.

There’s a fascinating link between food and faith.

Somehow, even a simple cup of coffee can alleviate the tension of meeting new people.

In our religious communities, food can be used to invite people to sit together and talk. It can start us down the path toward developing bonds.

As time goes on, the foods that distinctly represent our particular ethnicities and cultures become enmeshed in our religious lives, too. Often, some dishes rise to the level of a religious calling card — from latkes to the dubious lutefisk.

No one understands this better than members of Union Missionary Baptist Church in Waterloo. For them, food is a way to pay homage to their religious and cultural heritage.

The congregation first hosted services nearly 100 years ago. About one dozen members of Antioch Baptist Church — the Baptist mother church for the city’s black community — met in a local home.

Those early members knew how to stretch resources, whether it was borrowed worship space or the elements of a meal. In all, they drew on ideals and Christian values they brought with them when they migrated to the north and pitched in to sustain their church.

Over the years, the congregation grew, moving into a variety of locations before settling at its present site at 209 Shirley St.

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Members continue to have ties to the deep South. This includes the Rev. Marvin D. Jenkins, a Louisiana native who has served as pastor since 2004.

Southern heritage extends to faith, food and fellowship. This year marks the 50th time UMBC has hosted its Traditional Dinner, a celebration of all three.

For decades, the event has been a particular favorite among members and residents of the community. By “traditional,” organizers mean those special dishes that elicit nostalgic responses among those of us with southern roots and heritage — collard greens, cornbread, red beans and rice, gumbo and more.

Even dishes that sound familiar to northerners — say, green beans — become distinctly southern when prepared in that style.

For some, a few of the meal’s menu items are somewhat regular table fare. However, the Traditional Dinner also includes some special delicacies, like squirrel, rabbit and raccoon. Past attendees have told me wild game offerings are prepared in a way that removes “gaminess,” using recipes handed down through generations.

Rounding out the menu are pig’s feet and tails, hog’s head cheese, fried chicken and roast beef as well as a variety of southern dishes and soul food delicacies.

This year’s event is scheduled for 5 p.m. Jan. 19 at the church. Tickets are $15 each for adults and $10 for children. For more information, contact the church at 235-1213.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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