Breaking Bread Village brings diverse Bay County people together at a common table

In a world where people seem at odds over so many things, a local non-profit is inviting everyone to take a seat at the table and join the conversation.

Erin Patrice, the founder of The Breaking Bread Village, has been hosting shows in Midland over the past year. In 2024, the Bay Area Community Foundation is bringing the Breaking Bread Village program to Bay County.

Each show features an intentionally diverse panel and a live audience. The goal is to spark respectful conversations amongst people of diverse views.

The Breaking Bread Village started out of a need to “create spaces for people to have organic conversation,” Patrice says.

That’s especially important after 2020 when everyone was locked down during the pandemic and the world felt chaotic.

“I just saw people being very combative in nature and in dialogue and it was just kind of counterproductive,” Patrice says. “Nobody was really talking with each other. It was more of at each other.”

Graphic courtesy of Breaking Bread VillageShe decided instead of complaining about how things were, she needed to do something to get people talking and listening again.

Patrice created a series called “Including You,” which brings together people from different points of view and different demographics.

“We talk about different topics like societal expectations and biased judgment. We talk about religion. We talk about morality,” she says. "The beauty of it is we bring people together from different types of backgrounds to discuss whatever topic.”

What’s come of the series is that despite having different views, and sometimes extremely different views, people want to engage in civil conversation with each other.

“People want to continue the conversation,” Patrice says. “We are making a really positive impact within people’s lives, and even in friend groups and community groups.”

The Breaking Bread Village shows break down the walls between people.

“After one of our shows, that was titled ‘Agree To Disagree,’ we had someone in the audience who contacted me a couple of days later and said that they hadn't spoken to their brother since 2020 due to who he was voting for for president. And so she stopped talking to him. She told me that after that show, she decided to reach out to her brother again, to start up their relationship again.”

From young people to the elderly, everyone is invited to the table, Patrice says.

“We’ve had people that are the age of 84 come to shows and say, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m coming back,’ and we’ve had young children that come with their parents.”

Participants tell Patrice that the conversations continue long after the evening ends. That's Patrice's goal. The Breaking Bread Village is meant to be the first step to opening the lines of communication. The hope is the conversations continue.

Patrice also cautions that many issues can't be resolved in one conversation.

“Some people have come to a live show event expecting closure or everyone agreeing at the end and that’s not the mission,” she says.

Instead, the mission is to create safe spaces where people come together to share and be heard without the judgment of the outside world. Then, she hopes they take that conversation out into the world in a different way.

“Essentially what we’ve seen is that people want to continue the conversation and that people have done some inner work to even see something that they can improve on. It’s really been very impactful. I love the conversations that we have, but a lot of the growth and impact we’re seeing is in those moments where people have time to reflect, decompress from the event.”

Throughout 2023, Patrice has hosted the panel talks in Midland in partnership with the Midland Area Cultural Awareness Coalition. (Learn more about the program in this Feb. 16, 2023 article in Catalyst Midland. Catalyst Midland is a sister publication to Route Bay City.)

The QR code to register for the event is in the lower left corner of this graphic. (Graphic courtesy of The Breaking Bread Village)
The shows in this area will be held in Room 1904 of the Pere Marquette Depot, 1000 Adams St. Each show begins with a 6 p.m. pre-show. The show itself runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 

The shows and topics are:
  • Tues., Jan. 9 – Societal Expectations
  • Tues., March 5 – Bias-Judgment
  • Tues., May 14 - Empathy-Tolerance
  • Tues., Aug. 6 – Honesty-Transparency
  • Tues., Oct. 8 – Morality-Ideology-Religion
  • Tues., Jan. 7, 2025 – The Greater Good-The Big Picture
The events are free, but registration is encouraged.

Participants who join the shows can expect to see panels of people who encourage audience participation.
“Essentially what we’ve seen is that people want to continue the conversation and that people have done some inner work to even see something that they can improve on. It’s really been very impactful."

- The Breaking Bread Village founder Erin Patrice
Though The Breaking Bread Village sounds like a conversation around a meal, Patrice says the current series focuses on panelists who start a conversation and encourage audience interaction.

“The whole idea is about coming around like a dinner table, and so what I do is I set the table for the panel like a dinner table, and we do have centerpieces. We have beautiful table settings, and it’s meant to emulate the idea of when you come together for a dinner setting.”

Eventually, she says she’d like to serve a full-course meal, where people are able to break bread together. But, for the time being, the idea she uses the concept of a meal to make people create an ambience.

“It’s like welcoming someone into your home. I want to make sure you’re comfortable, so I set up a table. I make sure you’re good. It’s really light. It’s not stuffy, so when you sit down, I want people to feel like they are being treated, like I’m honored for them to be here.”

Patrice says she hesitates to call the programs spiritual, but the way everything works out, people do leave feeling like they’ve been uplifted in some ways. Each show starts with about live music to help people get settled in and let go of all of their nervous energy. Then, they can participate in a relaxed way.

“I want people to feel like when they go to their friend’s house or a family member’s house, and they go in, take their shoes off and relax.”

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Read more articles by Denyse Shannon.

As a feature writer and freelance journalist, Denyse Shannon has written professionally for over two and a half decades. She has worked as a contractor for daily and weekly newspapers, national and local magazines, and taught introductory media writing at her alma mater – Central Michigan University. She also holds a Master of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University. She and her husband live in Bangor Township and enjoy sailing on the Bay, and are avid cyclists.