One of our well-established traditions at both the pastorates I serve is the potluck. At regular intervals, we get together after worship to eat together. Such meals are a basic part of our church culture–not just our churches but most churches in our area. More importantly they are a vital and basic part of our spiritual growth.
This is not an attempt to equate the inevitable overeating that goes with potluck meals with some sort of spiritual blessing. I over eat at the potlucks because I have to try everything and have extra of some of the dishes that I really like and only get at the potluck. There is no spiritual blessing in overeating–there is a physical blessing from enjoying the good food and the physical consequences that I need to deal with later.
The spiritual blessing comes from the fact that we are together, sharing food and fellowship. We eat together; we talk together; we laugh together; we support each other. This fellowship time draws us closer to each other in a safe, comfortable, warm environment. The act of eating together is always a sign of a comfortable relationship.
Our potlucks at one of the pastorates even have a way of extending the fellowship. When everyone has been through the main course line as often as they want, there is a pause in the process while the main courses are removed and the desserts are put out–our hall isn’t big enough for two separate serving tables. This change over takes a bit longer than in some places because several plates are filled with food. These plates are taken to community members who can’t get out–and it doesn’t matter whether they are part of our or any church. Some of the plates are also given to people who are there but who we feel should have some take out from the meal. A similar process happens after the desserts have been sufficiently sampled.
By the way, we are not giving people the ragged ends and skimpy leftovers. Real potluck culture requires that everyone bring enough food to feed army battalion and so even after everyone has gone through the serving line as much as they want, there is still more than enough of all the food to feed everyone there again–or to share with lots of people who aren’t there.
And while the food is great, the time together is even better. People talk. Since I am a deeply committed people watcher, I spend a lot of time watching the groupings and connections and conversational groups. The seating arrangements are open and who sits where tends to be random. Couples don’t always sit together. The same people don’t always sit near each other. Visitors and new people don’t end up by themselves because they aren’t part of an established group.
We get our food, we grab an empty seat and we talk. We might change seats in the lull between courses. We might engage is a conversation with someone at another table. We likely take a long time to get to the serving table for seconds because we need to talk to several people on the way there and back.
We eat and laugh and catch up on news and share stories and make plans and ask about families and offer help and discuss cars and recipes and grandchildren. We spill coffee and tea and tease each other about the number of trips we make to the serving table and we offer to carry the empty plates to the cleaning area. We spend time together and we enjoy each other’s company.
And in the process we grow as individuals and as a church. We grow as individuals because we are discovering how to express our faith in the context of others, which is a basic Biblical requirement for real faith. We grow as churches because we are getting to know and appreciate each other more and more, developing trust and closeness and understanding. When we have eaten and joked together, it is somehow easier and more meaningful to worship together.
It is no coincidence that Jesus instituted what we now call Communion at a meal. There is a powerful and profound connection between the process of eating together and our ability to express our faith.
May the peace of God be with you.