What Happens at Church Potlucks besides Food?

TrinityPotluckMost of my Another Way followers know of my book Whatever Happened to Dinner (Herald Press, 2010), which looks at the ways eating together regularly strengthens families and children. A number of you actually helped me write the book with your wonderful examples, stories, memories, and ideas about what keeping family meal time as often as possible did for your family. In groups where I’ve talked about this topic, audiences have no trouble coming up with ideas about what eating together as a family does: fosters togetherness, establishes traditions, and leans toward better nutrition, companionship, conversation, and camaraderie.

In churches as in families, coming together around food, enriches our relationships.

What about in churches? If many of us think of our church homes as family, what does eating together in that context do for us besides give us nourishment? (Okay, so the calories consumed at a church potluck are sometimes empty too.) And I’ve got a special reason for writing on this topic, so be sure to read to the end.

Not everyone likes potlucks. For those with severe food allergies, the difficulties can be daunting, even life-threatening. Small children often see only food choices they’re not sure they like. Managing a plate, a tired/reluctant toddler or preschooler, and a high chair or booster can seem like too big of a hassle. Some of the same issues happen with the frail or tottery elderly: managing trays and canes or walkers, difficulty chewing food, the loud din that can make conversation difficult. Some guys I know—the meat, bread, and potatoes guys—worry about not getting enough meat.

But the majority of people in the churches I’ve been part of enjoy and celebrate potlucks. Why?

Even if you don’t like the hassle of fixing food and keeping it hot (or cold) to take somewhere, most of us enjoy conversation with other humans besides our usual tablemates—children, spouses, or roommates. In fact, once kids get to a certain age, they go off to a table by themselves and have a high old time. “Adult” manners are off the table, so to speak. My children forged their friendships with peers at church through all-church potlucks, summer picnics, small group dinners, and eating with other children at camp and church conferences.

Why eat together as a church family?

  1. It establishes familiar and beloved traditions. The summer picnic where the girls played the adult women in softball and the men did the same usually brought hilarious shrieks of laughter. I also recall little ice cream cups kept frozen in dry ice brought from a church member’s food processing plant, and marveled at the “fog” from the dry ice. Dangerous, maybe, and likely not allowed today, but it is seared into my fond memories of church and food. Your kids will have other recollections.
  2. Getting together to eat fosters togetherness. In churches as in families, coming together around food enriches our relationships. While some end up eating with family members, if we push ourselves and our older children to try sitting with newcomers or someone eating alone, everyone benefits.
  3. Gathering around food offers opportunity for conversation beyond weather, health, and church business. We may find out something new about a fellow church member’s life, past, family, or their adventures. This directly leads to more feelings of companionship and camaraderie—provided you aren’t arguing about an upcoing election or church politics. But that’s part of family life, too.
  4. It fosters hospitality. For many, an old tradition in churches was to invite visitors to the home of a member for lunch or dinner after morning worship. Some churches have monthly or frequent community meals in order to invite newcomers to join a social event.

If each of these points seems connected to the others, it is because they all go together—part of the invisible beauty and blessing of fellowshiping around food. There are many food stories about Jesus and meals in the Gospels—especially in Luke. We know that Jesus was human like all of us and seems to have enjoyed eating around the table with his followers and friends.

What are the reasons you enjoy table fellowship in your church community? Or not? Dissenting voices welcome too!

Special announcement! If your church is big on potlucks and perhaps even known for its great cooks and food—or perhaps everyone lines up to get at those great Thai eggrolls or other specialty made by one of your members—Mennonite Community Cookbook blog is hosting a “Best Church Potlucks Ever” photo contest. Take a mouthwateringly good photo of a food dish (for best results, get down very close to the dish, zoom in, and/or photograph it from the side). Ask the person who made the dish for permission to submit his or her name; via email, submit the photo (saved as a JPG), the names of the photographer, the cook, and the church, and the church’s address. You, your church, and your friend (the person who prepared the dish) will be entered into our weekly drawing to win your choice of five MennoMedia cookbooks! There will also be one winner of Mennonite Community Cookbook. You do not have to be Mennonite to enter or win, but obviously we are especially seeking Mennonite entries. By submitting a photo, you give permission for your entry to possibly be used in a future blog post for Mennonite Community Cookbook blog. If you don’t have a church potluck coming up, perhaps you have a small group or Sunday school potluck or picnic. Deadline: June 15, 2015. My email for this and any regular Another Way comments is MelodieD@MennoMedia.org.