This article was originally published on June 28, 2022 on The Restless Viking website.
I had heard about The Jam Pot bakery, located in the Keweenaw peninsula of Michigan, when I watched an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s “Uncharted” series about culinary and cultural occurrences. I distinctly recalled a grinning Monk, dressed in a flapping black gown, competing in a wheelbarrow race with the famous chef. I wanted to meet the monks and sample their tasty treats!
This map is courtesy of The Detroit Free Press.
During early June The Jam Pot would be open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm or until they had sold out. We arrived Friday morning shortly after 9:30 as we’d read that the line forms early.
The bugs were busy, so I wore my adventuring bug shirt.
DaViking always searches for unusual and interesting places. This didn’t seem to fit his qualifications, but he was willing to indulge my desires. We were about to be dazzled by the dedication and devotion of these Byzantine Catholic monks!
This kind man shared about how he and his wife assist at Poor Rock Abbey as he watered roses outside The Jam Pot bakery shop.
The retiree looked up, only for a moment and saw my bug shirt. “Yup.” He nodded in agreement, “The mosquitos, gnats and black flies are bad up here.” He continued working without being bothered by the flying insects. “Sadly, Father Basil passed away last November.”
“Now they are trying to have Ukrainian monks come join the three that live here.” He explained how a Bishop (leader) from a Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago had ‘adopted’ the duo in the late 1980’s when Father Basil and Father Nicholas had started this endeavor. Under this jurisdiction it became the Society of St. John, naming their monastery Holy Transfiguration Skete. A Skete is a monastic community in Eastern Christianity order.
“The Poor Rock Abbey” is another name for the establishment. “Poor Rock” refers to the gravel and sand that’s left over after the copper mining process which had been prevalent in this area.
“You should come to vespers.” The gardener invited us to the evening prayer service. “Everyone is welcome. It’s tonight at 5:30.” He started wrapping up the hose. “It’s really something to see.” He gestured toward the Holy Transfiguration Skete, their monastery building.
“It was nice to meet you.” I called as he took leave around the corner of the building. Then, I turned to the door to await The Jam Pot’s opening.
The line was forming quickly as the minute-hand marched toward the twelve. The anticipation thickened the air as did the bugs in the shade. I could see the gardener’s wife through the glass. She was busily setting out goodies.
The bugs huddled around me in the shade as the line of people grew longer.
Father Sergius greeted us warmly as we walked into the shop. Raising his eyebrows, he was ready to take my order, but I was overwhelmed by all the delicious offerings. I glanced at the lady behind me, “You can go ahead. I’m not sure what I’m going to get.” She stepped forward and asked about the baked goods. Others filed up behind her. They seemed to know exactly what to request. I wandered around the small shop carefully evaluating each treasured sweet.
Father Surgius patiently explained some ingredients of the baked treats to a customer.
Next, a couple stepped forward and ordered a case of delicious treats. The gardener’s wife found a box in the back. “They’re still warm.” She handed the man the cardboard container. Cinnamon scents wafted near me.
I wanted to purchase one of every item! However, I settled on trail mix, gooseberry jam and a caramel.
Why Gooseberry Jam?
The gooseberry jam would be a delightful delicacy for my father, William J. Meade. His favorite Irish toast is, “May the skin of the gooseberry cover the heads of all your enemies.”
My parents: William and Marcia (Bunek) Meade
A Day In The Life Of A Byzantine Monk
The Byzantine Monks support their monastery “by the work of their own hands.” Any surplus revenue is donated to the poor. They pick berries in the woods and make jam: gooseberry, thimbleberry, plum, orange marmalade, spiced peach. They also have baked goods, chocolates and trail mixes available for purchase in their store, The Jam Pot, and online at www.poorrockabbey.com.
This was taken in 2016 by Ryan Garza from the Detroit Free Press.
The Byzantine monks, (currently there are three at Poor Rock Abbey) wake early. By 6:00 am they join together in prayer. Next they eat and begin their work day of berry collecting, processing and baking. The monks close the day with vespers, a prayer service. Their devotion and hard work is commendable!
This captivating portrait hung just inside the door of The Jam Pot. Father Basil, along with Father Nicholas, came to the Keweenaw peninsula to find purpose and the greater meaning of life. The pair had started this monastery. I wanted to learn more about Father Basil, his motivation and his life.
In 1983 Basil and Nicholas took a scouting trip to the upper peninsula of Michigan, northwest of where Basil had grown up in the unincorporated community of Gwimm. After driving along the Keweenaw peninsula they hadn’t seen another car for sometime and felt this land could bring them seclusion and peace. They found a small group of weathered summer rentals. These buildings were not equipped with running water or heat.
“When we told friends we were thinking about doing a monastery, they thought we were a little bit screwy for thinking that,” Father Basil shared with John Carlisle. “But when we told them this would be a good place for it, some friends told us, ‘That’s insane. You guys are certifiable.’ ”
The First Winter
At the tip of the Keweenaw peninsula it snowed daily, typically at least six inches. Halfway through the winter, their wood supply ran out. The men would scavenge branches from the wooded shoreline surrounding the cabin. I can only imagine how cold it would be with Lake Superior squalls just outside their back door.
Father Basil shared with the Detroit reporter that a neighbor had brought a load of wood claiming it was cut too big for his wood stove. The heat produced by the cords of wood provided the men with warmth which they desperately needed.
The three small cottages have been painstakingly improved.
They now have running water, electricity and heat.
Up ahead, through the trees you can catch a glimpse of their Skete, their church building.
“Monasticism is like anyone’s life — you have to go shopping, you have to go to the doctor,” Father Ephrem explained in 2016. As a Michigan Technological University student, he’d come for a few days on a retreat. Ten years later he was still there.
“It’s constantly changing,” Father Basil poetically described his surroundings to the Detroit Free Press interviewer. “The sky is always different. It seems the lake has got many different moods. Sometimes it’s calm as glass, still as can be, and then other times just furious. And everywhere in between. I remember telling people we don’t have anything at all except the view, but somehow the view was enough. It got us through the real tough times.”
Father Basil and Father Nicholas’ determination impressed me. Father Basil had told John Carlisle, “Well, I don’t pat myself on the back. I’m looking ahead at how far there is to go. But once in a while, if you stand back, stop, turn around and look back, it is kind of amazing.”
Photo Credit: Ryan Garza, The Detroit Free Press
When Father Basil passed last November, he was surrounded by his colleagues. They had posted “May his memory be eternal” under Father Basil’s portrait in The Jam Pot store. By telling his story, I feel that we will honor Father Basil and keep his memory alive.
Vespers Prayer Service
Then we walked to the Skete. (church building) It was adorned with a shiny dome, similar to Russian onion-looking domes. I wondered if they’d speak in Latin, Ukrainian or possibly Russian. We entered quietly and noticed a basket of scarves and a sign requesting women to cover their heads. I obliged.
The Holy Transformation Skete held the dense scent of incense.
The incense odor and blackness clung to the artwork-filled walls. Below the cut out circle two painted doors waited patiently for a monk to enter and shake the incense burner which hangs from a string of bells.
There was one long pew along the back wall where we sat. One gentleman was already seated to the far left. Two women entered and sat next to me. Then another woman came through an internal door and sat next to the man who’d already been there. We surmised that she was probably a monastery worker.
Silently each priest entered individually. They stopped behind three different stations in the room. Making the sign of the cross (opposite shoulder touches from the Roman Catholic tradition), followed by a bow. They repeated the movement three times at each of the stations. The black folds of their robes flapped from the movement creating a muted clapping of cloth.
There was an element of theatrics, yet these men don’t hold power over a congregation. They weren’t trying to impress anyone, but God. They humbly pray for humanity. every. single. day. They work hard to sustain their monastery by making jam. This is the purest form of dedication that I have ever witnessed.
The first monk who’d entered led the prayers. These three men harmonized their invocations in English. The leader priest went through the center doors and waved the incense burner which hung on a string of bells, purifying the Skete while the other two sang.
The black markings on the walls are from the incense used.
At one point we were invited to follow along. The gentleman on the bench passed out prayer books. The two women left (almost quietly). The orison continued. I was mesmerized.
Afterward, two of the priests waited to greet us outside on the walkway. I had so many questions for them, but I didn’t want to break the reverence and serenity that followed an hour of invocation. I had spent the time focused on my friend who is terminally ill. I appreciated this hour of worship and benediction.
We strolled around the campus on our way back to the Jeep and found a waterfall! It was a magical find!
Jacob’s Falls is a short walk from The Jam Pot store.
I will continue to carry this experience with me. I will reflect on the monk’s dedication and devotion. I learn something from each person I meet and all the places we travel. My hope is that by bringing you along, you were able to learn the ‘behind the curtain’ story of The Jam Pot. Together we can share Father Basil’s memory.
Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube
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