NEW BREMEN — There are many reasons why people might want to become members of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in New Bremen.
Having a sweet tooth could be one of them.
The Rev. Becky Erb Strang, senior pastor, has made it a mission to bake gingersnaps for every member household. She’s made 293 dozen so far. She also keeps in the church office a cookie jar filled with the spicy treats and just recently has added them, along with a cooler of cold water, to a Pokemon Go gym on the church lawn. Players can help themselves to cookies while they battle their Pokemons.
Strang didn’t set out to be the gingersnap pastor when she took over the church pulpit in 2009.
“I went on sabbatical two summers ago to make St. Paul more welcoming,” she said. “So I got a cookie jar (for the office) and filled it with gingersnaps.” From that, the baking project, well, mushroomed.
“There were several people who were ill. I thought, ‘I’ll take them cookies.’ It didn’t take any time at all. This was fun,” she said. The idea to make them for everyone was born.
“So I just started with the As in the directory,” Strang said.
Gingersnaps were the cookie of choice because they don’t melt. Paper plates filled with a dozen cookies could be sealed into a zipper plastic bag and left on a porch if parishioners weren’t home.
It took Strang a year to get cookies to each family who regularly attends services. Now, she’s going back through the directory to make snaps for members who are not active.
“We had two college interns last summer. They did a ton of delivery,” she said. That got them onto the doorsteps of the congregation and gave them a chance to meet people face to face.
Strang sees the cookies as just one part of the mission to be “a church of welcome.”
“This congregation works very hard at being open door and welcoming. We help many people with utilities, gas and food. We opened a blessing cabinet a month ago,” she said.
The cabinet is a box outside the church that is stocked with toiletries, including soap, shampoo, diapers, toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Anyone is welcome to take whatever they need.
“Those are the things that food stamps don’t cover,” Strang said.
She bakes and delivers pumpkin bread to shut-ins during October. The church has partnered with the other New Bremen churches to fill backpacks with school supplies for needy children and with a church in Cincinnati to provide new clothes to children for the first day of school.
The Pokemon Go welcoming station is just another method of reaching area residents. Strang sees people on foot, on bikes and in cars stopping as late as 10 p.m. as they play the newly popular game on their phones. It was a natural inclination to offer them cold water and cookies.
Monday afternoon, three teens from Minster were delighted to find the treats.
“We knew there were gyms here,” said Spencer Prenger, 15, son of Teresa and Steve Prenger. He, Carson Prenger, 15, son of Tonya and Joe Prenger, and Luke Jacobs, 14, son of Diane and David Jacobs, had been playing the online game for about a week.
“Someone told us there were cookies here,” Luke said.
“They’re good. Nice and warm,” added Carson.
Strang can whip up 15 dozen gingersnaps in about an hour and a half. She uses a recipe that was her mother’s. The Rev. Jean Erb is retired and lives in Philadelphia. Strang and her husband, Jim, are now used to living in a parsonage filled with aroma of ginger and molasses. But they don’t eat many of the cookies.
“They’re still delicious, but I don’t eat a cookie out of every batch, for sure,” she said. The same can’t be said for their dog, Shadow. The great Dane/Labrador retriever-mix puppy gobbled a cookie that dropped from the sheet as it came out of the oven recently and was so happy that Strang now “drops” one every time.
The congregation doesn’t miss that extra cookie. They love the ones they receive. One parishioner has begun to make them regularly herself. According to Strang, the woman’s husband had an iron deficiency. The cookies are made with molasses, which is high in iron.
“Since she’s (been making the cookies), his iron level is stabilizing. She says it’s the cookies,” Strang said. Members who visit the church during the week for business always make stops at the cookie jar.
“Some people come every day to grab a cookie and go on,” she said.
Art Barnes, of Fort Loramie, was the church treasurer last year and now serves as vice president of the church council. He laughs that Strang’s cookies may be responsible for “five or seven pounds” of his weight.
“Gingersnaps were quite a treat when I was a kid. These particular ones have a zing because of the molasses she puts in. It makes them a little more irresistable. I’m up at the church three or four times a week. I can’t get past the cookie jar,” he said. “It’s really neat that (Strang) found such a niche. She’s a very inventive gal. This gives her a foot in the door to appeal to people. The gingersnap ministry is just another mission she has.”
The minister published the recipe in the church newsletter this month.
“When you bake a batch, I encourage you to deliver a dozen or so to a neighbor, a stranger or a friend …” she wrote. “Be the church for our community. Sometimes, that can happen one gingersnap at a time.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.