T here are few foods that have as many strong associations as cookies. Whether it’s the delicious taste of them, dunking them in a big glass of milk, their smell filling up a room, or the family and friends you’re surrounded in either the making or the eating of a batch. For Amber Taylor, a pregnancy counselor for Bethany Christian Services and minister of Word and sacrament in the RCA, it was the memories of baking cookies with her aunt. “When I was a young girl, while my parents worked, my aunt would watch my sister and me. And she owned a bakery business out of her home. She would always invite my sister and me into the kitchen with her to bake cakes and cookies.” This started her passion and love for cookies. And what I find true is that we always want to share our most fond memories with people around us, especially with food because it is so often a naturally communal thing. And that is how Amber has become synonymous with cookies in the west core neighborhood of Holland, Michigan, where she now lives. “People expect them wherever I go,” she says with a laugh. “If I show up with no cookies, people are like, ‘What is going on? You have to have cookies in your hand!’”
The first time I met Amber was when she came to a small group church gathering with cookies in hand. They were big and beautiful, chunky, chocolate chip cookies. They looked amazing and tasted even better. I remember thinking, “When is it appropriate to grab another?” The cookies added warmth and friendliness to the initial small group gathering. It’s a feeling that Amber hopes to create when she brings her cookies. “There are always cookies in my freezer, just so that I could take them wherever I was going. Whether it was a meeting with food or just a gathering of people without food, I always believed that every meeting should have some food because it brings comfort to people and makes people a little less anxious about whatever the gathering is for. Food breaks down barriers and it makes people feel calm and comforted.” And from there on out, whenever I see Amber, I also see the accompanying batch of cookies for sharing. It’s something that she has intentionally decided to incorporate into her daily life: dedicating herself to love her neighbors through food by bringing her cookies everywhere she goes.
Her reasoning is simple: loving neighbors and connecting with people. Her cookies have become something of a ministry in her community.“My first couple of weeks living in my house, I was like, ‘I gotta bake for my neighbors so that they know I bake cookies. And so they know that they are always welcome in my home, front porch, or backyard.’ I never want people to feel even embarrassed or shameful or weird about asking me because it delights me so much to just give people food or cookies,” she says. “So I love it when neighbors come by. And specifically, the boy next door. He’ll have friends over and will be like, ‘Hey do you have any of those cookies?’ Even if I don’t have any made, I’ll tell him to come into my kitchen and I’ll make some. It creates an opportunity to connect with people.”
It’s a simple idea: making cookies and sharing them with your neighbors. But it’s the intentionality it takes to incorporate this act into your daily life that leaves me inspired. It’s ingrained so much into Amber’s identity that the neighbors know they can knock on her door and feel welcomed and cared for with a batch of cookies. Her consistent ministry is building trust within her community. And trust goes a long way. Amber talked about what it’s like walking alongside people that might have had a negative experience with church and how she is still able to share the love of Christ through her ministry. “I take the small steps of inviting them into my kitchen first. A church door might not be the door they want to walk through, but they will walk through my front door. They will stand in my kitchen and stand with me while I bake cookies. They are experiencing Christ in a different way but equally as important.”
Amber is a member of The BLVD Church in Holland, Michigan, and was part of their initial launch team when the church was planted a little over three years ago. I find the dynamic between her cookie ministry and the ministry of The BLVD Church so compelling. They feed into one another in such an organic way. The mission of the church sustains her efforts in making cookies for her neighbors. And her relationships with her neighbors allows her to connect them with the church. It’s something that should have church leaders imagining how to leverage the gifts of their church members to make an impact in their community.
After hearing Amber’s story, I find that I’m ready to take out my bowls, whisks, and baking sheet, and think of a neighbor to share my cookies with. I asked Amber if she had any advice for those who would like to follow in her footsteps. Her main piece of advice was that the cookies don’t have to be perfect. “They don’t have to have it 100 percent right or be completely perfect…You can buy store-bought cookies or break-and-bake cookies. People appreciate that human connection. It’s not always about the actual cookies or what they taste like.” And she is right. Often when I ask people about their favorite food memory, it’s often the fellowship or camaraderie that stick out in people’s mind, not always the food.
Amber’s story challenges our concept of what “community engagement” or “outreach” looks like. We often think about it in terms of church programs, volunteer opportunities, or structured leadership roles. But those are not the only ways we can use our gifts and passions to impact our community. Sometimes loving our neighbors looks like sharing a batch of cookies.
Dive deeper with these resources:
Amber’s go-to food blog
Amber shared her favorite food blog and cook/baking book: Half-baked Harvest. Run by Tieghan Gerard, this blog features recipes and stories focused on living simply, eating seasonally, and cooking with whole foods.
Bakers Against Racism
Pastry Chef Paola Velez started Bakers Against Racism as a simple bake sale. It became a worldwide phenomenon. This podcast tells Paola’s story. Skip to 34:38 if you just want to hear about Bakers Against Racism (though the whole podcast is worth a listen!).
Head, Hands, Heart Exercise for discovering your gifts
Use this exercise in your faith communities to identify, appreciate, and enable the giving and receiving of gifts of everyone in their community. Then imagine how you can use those gifts to impact your community like Amber has.
Comforting Snickerdoodle Cookies
How to make the perfect fall cookie
About this recipe
Amber shared this recipe with us for the perfect fall cookie. It’s full of warm and comforting flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar. Cookies are a way to extend love, care, and hospitality to your neighbors, coworkers, or church members. We hope this recipe can give spark in inspiration to take the next step to love people through food in your everyday life.
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 egg plus 1 yolk
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- 1 heaping tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 3/4 cup flour
- 1/4 granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or normal bowl if you only have a hand mixer) mix butter, granulated sugar, and light brown sugar together on medium speed for 2-3 mins until fluffy. Add the egg and the yolk, vanilla, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and cinnamon. Mix for 1 min. Scrape down sides.
- Turn mixer on low, add in flour, and mix until just combined. Don’t over mix!
- Mix extra cinnamon and sugar in a separate bowl.
- Scoop cookie dough using a medium cookie scoop (about 2.5 tablespoons of dough) and roll into a ball. Roll each cookie dough ball into the cinnamon and sugar mixture.
- Place 6 cookies on baking sheet and chill in the freezer for 15 mins.
- Bake for 12-14 mins, turning cookie sheet halfway through baking. Cookies will not look done, but they are! Allow to cool fully on baking sheet.