Who doesn’t know what a potluck is? It’s hard to believe, but most of my Australian friends had to be introduced to both the word and the concept.
In my home church, Dublin Street United in Guelph, Ont., potluck was as obvious and easy as breathing. It’s something we just did — and often. I learned to make devilled eggs and that it was worth holding out for homemade macaroni and cheese. Pancake breakfasts, cheese and citrus drives, spaghetti suppers, coffee hours and even communion: very little happened in my church that wasn’t anointed by the sharing of food.
Recently, my friend told me a story about standing in the church parking lot early on Sunday, negotiating with her teenage daughter about attending the service. The daughter wasn’t interested in going to church and, with the skilful bartering of youth, offered to go home and come back in time for coffee hour. There was to be a fanfare after the service, and she was eager not to miss out on the socializing and cake. Mom conceded, but this small interchange planted a question in her mind: Is church about worship, or was her daughter on to something else? Is fellowship at the heart of church?
Fellowship — the many little acts of living in community — is, in fact, what I value most about church. By being in relationship with other churchgoers, I’ve learned lessons of compassion, respect and integrity, and how to live a goodly, godly life that embodies the words of worship. Eating together, a simple and ordinary act, has instilled in me a desire to live ethically in relation to my neighbours.
A few years ago, my mom confided to me that she enjoys the refreshment time at the end of a funeral because that’s when she’s most likely to find church-window squares. You know, the ones with mini-marshmallows held together by a magic glue of chocolate and peanut butter. I don’t think my mom meant any irreverence but simply wanted to comment on the pleasurable act of sharing food. The social gathering after a church service mirrors the fellowship of family. It’s a relief to arrive at the tea-and-coffee part. We are able to relax and share ourselves with an openness and generosity found in few other rituals of our daily lives.
The members of my church wrote a cookbook some years ago — an idiosyncratic little publication that doesn’t always follow the logic I think it should. In many ways, the book reminds me of what it’s like to live the complexities of community. It isn’t easy. It can be messy, uncomfortable and even contradictory. We need patience, effort and an understanding that other people’s habits may not be our own. And yet this little cookbook is filled with wisdom that gets the job done with pleasing results. Like the community from which it materialized, it overflows our proverbial cups with delight, laughter and joy.
A friend of mine calls potluck suppers “pots of joy.” We haven’t yet determined if this rewording comes from her French or Vietnamese heritage, but the point is taken. There is joy in sitting down to eat together. And I assure you, even if my Australian friends don’t understand what a potluck is, there is always plenty of nourishment.
Mandi Baker is a PhD candidate, academic tutor and manager of a residential college at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.
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