de(tales): potluck suppers
Liv is one of my truest friends, and also my pastor. My time talking and praying with her has been among the strongest tools that the Holy Spirit has used to heal some of the wounds of churches past. She constantly challenges me to think a different way (usually with more room and more grace), and she always has a warm hug and a wink for me. If you've been here long, you may already know her, a little, she's made it into my posts here and there. I'm so happy to share her de(tale) with you today.
Barley and kale salad. Blueberry crumble. Black bean chili with red onion salsa. Cornbread.
Not surprisingly, there are good potluck suppers and bad potluck suppers. As a Lutheran pastor, raised in the church, I am adept at telling the difference. It may not be what you think.
I grew up in a large, wealthy, suburban church. My rosy memories of childhood there include potlucks where my Dad joined a throng of women bringing thoughtful, creative dishes to share, offered up in a warm and sincere manner with accompanying serving spoon on a big buffet table. When I chat with my parents these days, I hear a different story. No one cooks anymore, my Dad moans. Instead they swing through Whole Foods and grab designer potato salad or a roasted chicken. “Don’t get me wrong, everything tastes fine,” he explains. “But you can just tell. People don’t care.”
My Dad is a rarity in this scenario. A male who loves spending time in the kitchen, he carries a now-old-fashioned notion of care connected to food and feeding. Old-fashioned, and I would say gospel-centered. Others are pressured by busy lives or assumed standards and decline the work of cooking for a church potluck. This breaks my dear Dad’s heart.
Years after leaving the large church in the suburbs, I worshiped at a small urban church on Chicago’s far north side. It was affiliated with the Mennonite tradition, and it was there I got schooled on the true goodness of the potluck supper. Even as a Lutheran.
Wednesday nights the people gathered. Warm chafing dishes brimmed with baked veggies in rice. Chipped pottery bowls held fresh fruit. Someone made weak lemonade. On Wednesdays, this neighborhood corner became casserole row.
One night, Ray, an expert gleaner (he spent a lot of time finding treasures in corporate dumpsters), came to potluck bearing guacamole. A big bowl of it. “Guacamole!” The excited cry went up. One by one, we scooped the green goodness onto our plates, grabbed some chips and gave it a taste. Then looks passed around the room. Raised eyebrows, puckered mouths. “Ray, what did you put in this?” The explanation came: “Seventeen limes. Y’know, to keep it green.”
Whole Foods, while helpful in many ways, would never sell you guacamole made with the juice of seventeen limes. It also can’t sell you that great story, that potent memory. It can’t package the puckered faces laughing through the grimaces. Certainly it cannot sell you a relationship with Ray. That’s the special glory of a good potluck.
In the congregation I now serve, those limited by access and skill bring pre-made potato salad or chips to a potluck. Others bring soups and casseroles baked at home, with ingredients from their masterfully tended garden. And we eat with delight. The wide welcome, the sharing, and the magic that somehow every time we gather there is more than enough: this makes a potluck good. Humble yet glorious, it is a feast in which the hidden face of God is made visible, embodied. It’s the body of Christ in green guacamole and homemade bread. O taste and see.
Liv Larson Andrews is the pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in the West Central neighborhood of Spokane, Washington. She lives with her husband and young son, and dreams of hosting the first lectionary-based cooking show.
You can read more of Liv's words on her blog for Spokane Faith and Values.
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.