Food III – Abusing the Gift

Since food is relational and spiritual it is not unreasonable that churches should use food for ministry. This goes way beyond food banks for the poor, and pizza to lure in youth on Wednesday nights. While I will not get into all the particulars about how food can be used for relational and spiritual development, I do have this do say: Do not abuse the gift. You all know what I am referring to... the potluck.

Have you ever noticed that all potlucks smell the same? It doesn't matter what state you are in, the denomination, or the time of year, all potlucks have that same smell. There are other things in life that are an amalgamation of random variety that share this feature with the potluck. All garbages smell strangely similar. Unkempt public restrooms all share a common stench, even though the overwhelming fragrance proceeds from refuse composed of a unique plurality of edibles.

The lesson for potlucks is clear, the common stench is a warning of disfavor. How could disfavor extend to food you ask? This is unclear even to me, but the existence of a definite potluck smell is undeniable. “Well,” you might say, “don't all fast food places smell the same?” You are right, of course, but for different reasons. All hamburger places smell the same because they all make the same food. A KFC does not smell like a McDonalds, however, and a Taco Bell smells different than both. That is what we should expect from food. When you get home you know what to expect for dinner based on the aroma. Every food has this earmark, or fingerprint if you will, that declares its distinctiveness before the food can be seen or tasted. In this way every food is given an identity and personality. Potlucks strip all food of its identifying aroma, of its dignity really, by exuding an oder that is neither pleasant nor distinctive. As it is with the garbage, so with the potluck. Can we really expect these efforts to be blessed?

Food, one of the greatest gifts to mankind, a symbol of our unity, our glory, our distinctiveness, yea even our very souls, has been taken by the church and profaned in the potluck. Repent, I plead, and turn from your casseroles and gelatinous creations. Make foods in keeping with good taste and flavor. If food is relational what are we saying to our friends and neighbors when we invite them to church and offer them overdone Mostacholi à la bland with a side of 15 layer Jell-o dessert? Are there no cooks in the House, are we without culinary prowess? Do we think that, since everyone eats, anything will suffice? Maybe, since everyone breathes, we should poison our air too... but, as we have noted, the potluck has this covered as well. Perhaps I am looking at this all wrong. Maybe churches believe potlucks are a way of suffering for the Name. While we suffer, yes, no glory will be gained for our efforts. No. I say it again No! Food is a gift. Let us not reprobate, violate, or desecrate it any longer. What have we done? Where is our soul? Will we ever recover from this fall?

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  • Amira

    In my humble opinion, the reason all potlucks are the same is that the standard dishes are cheap and easy, which by inference makes the standard potluck cook cheap and lazy. My oh my , did I just say that???

  • Some potlucks are great! If they have a theme and people have a willingness to understand their weaknesses. If more people would go the way of the college church member and do standard desert or chips and dip or cookies and let the masters of the culinary arts perform, then potlucks would go from an unwilling acceptance of free food to something where people can look past the stench of food and enjoy the relational goodness of eating together!

  • Brian Relph

    What about Old Country Buffet? They’re all the rage in my neck of the woods despite the wide variety.

  • luftmensch

    Get over it – potlucks rock.

    Fellowship, fun and a meal that no one has labored over.

    Pass the green bean casserole!

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  • “It doesn’t matter what state you are in, the denomination, or the time of year, all potlucks have that same smell.”

    Sorry friend, I couldn’t disagree more. You have to travel more. Maybe take a detour into the city. Your general point is well taken, but on this detail of smell I’m afraid you’re research is flawed. The potlucks at my church offer a rich variety of flavors and smells. It’s a beautiful expression of diversity. Let’s have more, I say.

  • Ryan,
    Perhaps your church profanes a great event by calling it a potluck. What I am hinting at may be exactly what your church is doing, putting forth our best food and best effort when we eat together. My experience has come from doing traveling ministry for the past 10 years (and churches frequently invite us on potluck night). I have been to many church dinners (some may have considered them “potlucks”) that were wonderful and good, but more often I was greeted with that terrifying aroma, that distinctive potluck aroma, that meant certain doom. It is not that great church dinners do not exist but that the potluck, as so described, exists at all that forced my hand in writing this post. I agree with the bear above, he seems to fully grasp the implications of this post.

    A pastor friend said to my wife the other day (he had not read this post)
    “The pastorate is great but the hardest thing I had to learn to cope with was the dreaded potluck.” That’s what I’m talking about.

  • Truth Seeker

    Personally, I don’t like the smell of the pot-luck and sometimes not even the food. But put that aside and I think you are missing one of the greates aspects of the potlucks. Its not about the food or how it smells and so on, its about the fellowshipping with fellow believers. I have been to some potlucks where over half the food was mac and cheese and the rest I couldn’t ID, but they are some of the most memorable ones because I spent it with family and friends that I wouldn’t normally have a lot of time to spend with as I am away from them right now.

    Don’t gripe over the food, be thankful God has provided. Don’t gripe over the smell, but rather relish the smell of aroma of fellowship. Don’t complain about the lack of different styles of food, but rejoice in the fact that our God is a diverse God.

    Potlucks are great when the focus is less on the food and more on the people! Give it a shot, I think your attitude towards them will change!


  • There is something to this!

    Our little, rural Episcopal parish seems to get together at the drop of a hat for eating. Our Sunday coffee hour is actually a light (finger food) lunch, and we may be the only church in the world that follows the traditional Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper with an Ash Wednesday mac and cheese supper. During the summer we always seem to be able to find a justification to have at least three parish cookouts.

    And, at other times during the year, we have the potluck.

    Interestingly, although most of the same faces are present for all of the above, they are present in much smaller numbers when the term “potluck” appears in the description of the cuisine.

    I am thinking, now that I read this post, that people have been voting with their feet. Thank you for the “eureka moment!”

  • Brian Relph

    Thank you Truth Seeker! My wife shows love by cooking. She is a wonderful cook. We have two small children (2&1/2 and 7 mo.) so it is very difficult for her to contribute regularly to say a Sunday school class. When an event requiring food comes up at our church, she gets very excited because this is her opportunity to contribute, serve and show love for our community of faith. We aren’t rich, so when such an event comes up, we don’t rush out and buy all organic gourmet ingredients, we usually go to Aldi. Does that make her love any less genuine? As I mentioned, we have two small children, so time is precious. If we didn’t have kids, she would be free to spend several hours slaving over a culinary masterpiece, but that is not our situation. Should she be prohibited from showing love to our community of faith because she only has time to put together a simple casserole? Rejecting a potluck may be rejecting love that others are attempting to share with you.

  • llamas are funny

    Ok, everyone. This is bordering ridiculous… What started as an entertaining and humorous piece has seemed to become something of a judgement of character. There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion about food. It doesn’t mean you are condemning a person or rejecting their love if you don’t like their casserole.

  • Amira

    I am sorry. I really didn’t mean toi cause anyone offence, even if it does look like it. There is a reason I am new to blogs.
    I also now see why so many of you don’t use your real names..hmm maybe I’d better come up with something.
    My only excuse is that if you all thought Adam was a fussy eater, well you ain’t seen nothing.

  • Well said, sure you can fellowship with bad food but wouldn’t it be better to fellowship with good food? If I take my wife out to eat I’m going to someplace like the olive garden over Taco Bell. The fellowship may be the same at both places but if I really love her I’m going to take her where the food is good.

    Same with potlucks, so excellent post on how loving your neighbor with good food is important.

  • Amira

    Could it be time for a new blog??? Might help keep all of us from more comments….

  • Randy Ehle

    Wanna hear scary? Several years ago, my grandparents died about three months apart. Their church graciously hosted receptions after each of their memorial services and – here’s the scary part – the same foods showed up at each of those receptions! I suppose it could have even been the SAME food, just frozen and reheated, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume both batches were made especially for the occasion.

    (By the way: In all fairness, I should state that there was no direct relation between potlucks and my grandparents’ deaths!)

  • Sarah K.

    Steve called me specifically to tell me that I would love your “Food Series.” He was right. I’ve been silently watching for a while, but the time to comment has come. I’m definitely on the “food is art” side of the fence. Like many other things, this is a topic that Steven and I, as newlyweds, are in ‘dialogue’ over as we adjust to married life. Mostly because Steven likes raw vegetables and I like to make them with flavor. 🙂 But, that’s not the reason for me to join in the comment frenzy. Lonnie sent us the link to Joel Kirkpatrick’s book, “A Field Guide to Evangelicals and Their Habitat.” I haven’t read it, but from Amazon’s site, I read this excerpt and had to pass it along.

    “Why do evangelicals aim so low on the culinary totem pole? Because Sunday brunch is a humble adjunct to the sermon, not a high point in itself. The exotic foods at fine-‘n’-fancy restaurants militate against the simplicity and straightforwardness of the gospel. (The Bible calls the gospel “milk” and “meat,” never “escargot on a bed of fennel and spinach.”) There is no good reason, evangelicals believe, to put so much thought and creativity into food preparation, and it probably means the chef is either gay, or worse, French.” (page 23)

  • Amira

    A gay French chef cooking Sunday brunch? Where is he ansd can I afford it?
    Let me know!!!

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  • MOM

    Our church is having our quarterly “potluck” after church next Sunday.
    I was thinking about making “garbage can”, Soooo………What do you think?
    Love ya, MOM

  • Roldog

    Someone pass me the salt.

  • Joanbrown

    You obviously need to come eat at our church! Our dinners are legendary. And themed, by the way. We have Italian or Mexican or a particular kind of american. Paula Dean is our favorite chef. OK, so maybe hers is not the healthiest and we do try to eat healthier than that. But tasteless is not in our vacabulary. I’m sorry you haven’t experienced really good church food. It is a treat and a blessing. In summer, our members share the produce of their wonderful gardens. We shop at the farmers markets and prepare it all lovingly.We probably draw more people to our church through our wonderful food than all the prosilitizing we could ever accomplish. We feel this is one of the best ways to share the abundance of this planet with all who enter our doors.