Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Potluck (Meal or Gathering) Deadline 7-26-12 @ 10 AM NY Time (07/19/12)
TITLE: THE CHURCH POTLUCK
By Sally Schrock
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I was nineteen when I went to my first church potluck. It was in the fall after I became a Christian. Called a “Harvest Dinner,” it was held at the church my husband and I were attending, a congregation of one hundred or so people in the hills of Southwest Michigan. Never in my life had I seen so much beautiful food in one place at the same time. Three or four long tables laden with meat dishes, hot vegetables, dinner rolls, cold vegetable salads, and fruit salads sat adjacent to three more tables covered with cakes, pies, tortes, puddings and cobblers. Not a single dish was duplicated and not one of them came from a grocery store or bakery. I ate until I could barely waddle away.
Imagine my surprise ten months later when we attended a potluck at our new church in Denver, Colorado where we had moved to attend Bible College. This was a much larger church but there were only two tables of main course food which included sandwiches (unheard of in our country church), and four desserts, three with plastic covers from the grocery store still intact. Half of the people were through the line when we gingerly approached the table, taking very small portions for fear the last in line would not have anything to eat! It was one of my first lessons as a new Christian: it is not a sin to bring store bought food to a potluck.
We were pastoring our third church when I developed an aversion to church potluck dinners. The large congregation boasted some fabulous cooks and I was not one of them. Pressed for time and with very few groceries in the house, I decided to make beef and noodles for the potluck. I have always faltered when it comes to the appropriate meat/pasta ratio and on this particular day, I ended up with a thick, pasty looking concoction. Unfortunately, after it sat in a warm oven during the morning service, the meat shriveled and the pasta expanded, making it even less appetizing. When I went through the line, mouth watering over all the beautiful salads and casseroles, I tried to pretend that anemic looking noodle thing, the dish that everyone else had politely passed by, was not mine. It was hard to do with the great big flowery “SALLY” label stuck on its side.
To a 16th century Englishman, pot-luck meant "food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, who took whatever was offered and was thankful for the luck of the pot. To the Irish, potluck referred to a group of women cooking dinner together. Each woman brought whatever ingredients they had on hand and, since they only had one, everything was cooked and served out of a single pot.
These two definitions convey the essence of a successful church potluck. It is not about food. The most important aspect of any communal meal is that it brings people together, those that are regulars and the unexpected guests. The chatter in the kitchen, the teamwork of setting up and taking down tables, children running through the church basement laughing – all of these things instill in us a sense of community, of family, no matter what we are eating.
In all of our churches, we had a host of families into our home for a meal and they reciprocated by inviting us to their house, but that practice has become a thing of the past. We think about it; we make plans to do it. But in the end time is short, food is expensive, and it doesn’t get done. Occasionally we take another family to a restaurant but that has an obvious drawback: because of the expense, one family is all we can invite. The traditional church potluck makes it possible for us to connect with a number of people while we divide the work and the expense. I don’t have to worry if my house is clean enough to entertain and the atmosphere in a church fellowship hall is infinitely more inviting than a restaurant.
I am especially thankful that in today’s church culture, Domino’s Pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken is completely acceptable. I really don’t mind having a great big flowery label on the top of the Kentucky Fried tub that says “SALLY.”
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