Pastor Thompson was nearing the end of his Scripture reading. “…Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eeee-eagerly desire the greater gifts.*” He stretched the long vowel for emphasis, capturing my meandering adolescent attention. Nobody at Bakerburn Baptist Church worked miracles or even spoke in tongues, but I had been to enough church potlucks to know that cooking was the greater gift.
Take Charlotte Lundgren for instance –mother of seven and grandmother of twelve. The Lundgren brood was easily identifiable by their blond hair, fair complexion, and round rosy cheeks. Lundgren males were built like linebackers, while the females could have been congenial roller derby queens. But most impressive of all, were Charlotte’s outstanding culinary skills.
Cana’s wedding wine surely didn’t generate as much discussion as Charlotte Lundgren’s pot-luck entree. The potluck committee, including my mother, began speculating weeks in advance about which of Charlotte’s delicacies would grace the monthly potluck line-up.
As the Lundgrens arrived for pot-luck, committee members scurried to Charlotte’s side. She might relinquish her coat, her purse, or the grandchild clinging to her skirt, but Charlotte held tightly to her mouth-watering masterpiece, personally delivering it to the serving table with a flourish.
The placement of Charlotte’s dish was followed by a flurry of activity, for her offering provided the fulcrum for all remaining dishes. Into the non-Lundgren line went the best looking of the meatloaves and the tater-tottiest casserole. My mother’s pie, an impressive, but lesser weight in the balance, usually landed in the non-Lundgren line as well; that is, unless Greta Schmidt baked her authentic German Chocolate cake, in which case the Lundgren line was doubly blessed. Janet Caldwell furnished enough fried chicken to satisfy both lines, and jell-os with marshmallows were balanced against those with cottage cheese. All remaining dishes fell quickly into place.
Another notable pot-luck arrival was the Tweed family. In all they numbered eleven. No ill-will was intended toward the Tweeds; Priscilla Tweed simply was not blessed with the greater gift, as was evidenced by her lean, gaunt-faced family. As they stood in line, I noticed that they resembled the straight pins lined up across my mother’s pincushion. It gave everyone a good feeling to see their plates mounded high at the monthly potluck.
The Tweed family attended every church event involving food. But when Priscilla arrived at pot-luck she was immediately relieved of her dish, which was whisked off to the kitchen. I once watched incredulously as burnt spaghetti noodles topped with catsup were scraped from Priscilla’s dish directly into the garbage can. “Let’s not forget to slip this dish onto the table after everyone is served,” whispered the same Sunday school teacher that had taught me the story of Ananias and Sapphira the previous week. That is when I decided to eagerly desire the greater gift.
Over the next several decades I faithfully exercised the gift of cooking, and even raised my own brood of round-faced, fair-skinned children. Many of our family traditions revolved around food: animal-shaped pancakes on Saturday mornings, Cheese sandwiches and home-canned tomato soup for Saturday lunch, homemade muffins for Sunday breakfast followed by pot-roast for Sunday dinner…the list goes on. Though I wasn’t a legend like Charlotte Lundgren, my desired gift was definitely emerging.
But alas, times change. Subtly, almost overnight, the most celebrated potluck cooks became Colonel Sanders and the teenagers employed by Pizza Hut. Next, cooking took a turn toward lite, fat-free, and micro-waved. Thin, as in the Tweed family was “in,” and robust, as in the Lundgren family was “out”. Eventually the monthly pot-luck ritual faded, and with it all grand illusions of mastering the greater gift.
I may have been mistaken about the greatness of cooking, anyhow. Recently I have noticed that Annie Halstrom’s shower gifts are regarded in much the same way that Charlotte Lundgren’s casseroles once were. Annie is personally greeted by members of the bridal or baby shower committee, who reverently place her gift in the center of the gift table. Incessant chatter ensues during the gift-opening until the honored guest reaches for Annie’s gift. Then a hush falls over the crowd as Annie’s homemade scrapbook and accompanying self-stamped gift card are revealed. “Ooooooh….Ahhhhhh….” the ladies sing in unison.
Who would have guessed that the greater gifts were really stamping and scrap-booking?
*I Corinthians 12:29-31 (NIV)
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