The Church Potluck

February 13, 2012 | 30 comments

A little girl, her face round with wonder, finds me in the church kitchen, where I’m plugging in a crock-pot full of BBQ meatballs.

“Jennifer,” she tugs at my sweater. “I brought cupcakes, and I frosted them all by myself.”

I bend down, so I can see her eye to eye. I tell her to save one for me. At a potluck, everyone has something to bring. We are each provider and guest. Even the child can offer a gift to the table — even if she brings only her hunger.

And we all come hungry. 

Before we eat, we worship. For the next hour, we sing, and we read the Psalms responsively — a community’s way of lamenting and praising in unison. We confess our sins,  shoulder to shoulder, and read aloud the Creed. Voices rise from hungry souls who empty to be filled again, by the One we confess as Lord. The One who will come again.

Meanwhile,  the kitchen hums with crockpots and ovens set to 350-degrees, warming pounds of meatloaf and lasagna in Pyrex beds.

The service ends with the pastor’s blessing. And like clockwork, the women — long accustomed to feeding everyone else first  — slip out from the wooden pews. It is a dance, what they do, moving in and out of kitchen doors without bumping into one another. Their potholdered hands carry pieces of a feast.

The table does the hard work, groaning under the weight of ham, meatloaf and a variety of foods wading in pools of mushroom soup or spaghetti sauce.

And I am, again, the child in my own church basement, remembering how my plate performed a miracle all its own — holding all that I had piled upon in, without spilling onto unlike foods.

Here,  from the back of the fellowship hall, I watch as the children fill their plates first. They pile plates with too little protein, and too much of whatever was topped with Cool-Whip.

Taste and see. Taste and see…

I find my way to the potluck table, and fill. There is more than enough, always more. The room hums with conversation, in this, a shared ritual passed down through generations. I hear someone ask who made the rice soup, and I know it was Joyce because I recognize her crockpot.

I find my place between a family of six, speaking in Spanish, and a young mother, murmuring baby-talk while coaxing her child with a choo-chooing fork.

At the table, I slow down. I eat attentively. And here, with fork in hand, love comes into focus.

We have each invested something of ourselves to get here — the frosting on a cupcake, the carefully measured ingredient. Even this — the simple opening of a bag of Chex mix — is an offering at the table of grace.

All of it leads to God.

At the potluck, the mind sharpens its focus on Christ, and community, and what it will mean to live fully restored. All are invited to the table, and I pull up a chair.

Cicero once said that in friendship, our joy is doubled and our grief is divided. In that single hour of a potluck, where we lean in toward nourishment, the mathematics are multiplied even more so among the calloused hands and the tendering hearts.

I lift my fork for a last bite, among guests at a long and enduring table of startling grace. And Christ, the unseen host, becomes more visible here, in this place. For our banquet of meager offerings is but a foretaste of what we professed — in unison only minutes ago — of our Savior, who has bought a place at the table for each of us.


Writing in community with Michelle and Laura …

by | February 13, 2012 | 30 comments


  1. kd sullivan

    What lovely memories you’ve stirred here…and then injected them with a truth. That I would always come hungry…

    • dukeslee

      kd — Do you still “do” potluck? It seems like a lot of churches have moved away from it, in favor of catered meals. Which is lovely, too. To me, it seems the food is secondary to the fellowship.

      Thank you for sitting at the table with me a while. 🙂

  2. Gramma T

    It was like the loaves and the fishes! I was second to last and there was just enough in the bottoms of crock pots to taste each a bit and fill up on salads and dessert! My way to fill my plate anyway. And now we get to gather again on Thursday and love on those residents at the home. Blessings all week sharing the LOVE!

    • dukeslee

      For. Sure. 🙂

      Like the “Table of Grace” song says, “the plate’s always full, and it’s never too late.”

      I look forward to our time serving on Thursday. I saw Katherine wheeling her chair through the hall of the nursing home yesterday afternoon, and she promised that she’d save me a spot next to her at the Bingo table. 🙂

      • Dolly

        I love that song “Table of Grace”…what a wonderful feast you painted with your words, Jennifer…Thank you 🙂

  3. Nancy

    Sometimes, when I’m sitting at a church potluck, I feel genuinely sad for those who don’t get to fill their plates high like you described or participate in that kind of community. I like thinking about all of it being rehearsal for that one great, big, eternal feast.

    • dukeslee

      Oh Nancy …

      I have that same thought. I do. … For every blessing I’ve been given, someone (or rather, many someones) are starving for food or for love or for both.

      Grateful for you to raise that point here, in the comment box, Nancy. I love your heart.

  4. Christine

    I haven’t been to a church potluck in a long, long time. Thank you for this. It begs me to pray that our church embraces fellowship more.

    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      Gathered around a table is always a great place to start. Jesus seemed to enjoy that. Christine, I’ll join that prayer, for fellowship to be more widely embraced across the greater Church.

  5. Simply Darlene

    So, miss JDL, did you lick the frosting off the cupcake first or eat it with each bite?

    (By the way, we had a pastor who refused to call it “potluck” because luck has no place in God’s family, he called it a “shared meal” because well, that’s what it all about. Sharing. Food. And love.)


    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      Each bite, slowly savored. And trying to live life in such a way …

      Love you.

  6. Lyla Lindquist

    The mix of language — lament and praise (both worship, no?), English, Spanish and baby talk. Do we see him any better than we do around our tables?

    (And, really? Family of six speaking a mother tongue not your own, right there in the little white church? Be still, my heart…)

    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      You may (or may not) be surprised to know that until the mid-20th-century, much of the service in our church was conducted in Norwegian.

      Now, you may be *really* surprised to know this: Of that family of six (speaking Spanish,) five are actually native English speakers who choose to speak Spanish. There is one Hispanic son in the family.

      • Lyla Lindquist

        I am surprised. Surprised, intrigued and really touched by that.

  7. Sheila Lagrand

    There is intimacy in knowing a friend’s rice soup because you recognize her crockpot. Our new, lifesized church has potluck the third Sunday of every month. We guard that time on our calendar.

    And when we have to miss it, we grieve.

    • dukeslee

      I would grieve it, too, Sheila. Potluck Sundays are my favorite. I always go away full, even when I’m watching my calories. 🙂

  8. Denise J. Hughes

    I agree with Nancy. Church potlucks are like rehearsal for the Great Banquet Feast. Your post reminds me of potlucks past. Sweet memories.

    • dukeslee

      And we get to sit at that table, not because of the worth of anything we brought, but because our spot was bought.

      Thank you, Denise, for your comment here.

  9. Elizabeth

    Me in the ministry these 30 something years, the church potluck is as familiar to me as breathing. Today, you turned what I viewed as common into poetry. So beautiful.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Elizabeth!

      You make me smile. Your encouragement blesses me greatly. So … after all these years of potluck-ing, do you still bring the old standbys? Or do mix it up from time to time, springing a new recipe on the congregants?

  10. Shelly Miller

    We still do potlucks at our church too. Your description could’ve been the people and food around the table in my town. Love community expressed this way. Some of the best friendships start there. I can imagine most of those kids like tugging on your arm, they know that you will repsond with genuine love that looks in the eyes.

  11. Beth E.

    We have potluck meals at our church, too. We eat, laugh, share, pray, and just love on one another. It’s a special time of fellowship…a time to nourish our bodies, hearts, and souls!

    P.S. I have to add this…church ladies can COOK! 🙂

    • Leah Adams

      Hey sweet Beth, oh yes, church ladies can cook. It is an anointing you get when the HOly Spirit settles in on you!!!

  12. Diana Trautwein

    I needed this sweetness tonight, Jennifer. Thank you for it. I’m still processing a two day visit with my failing mom and this reminder of rich fellowship shared before all the frailty is like a dose of good medicine just now. In our church community, we do both potlucks and planned meals (with a set menu, but often brought by different people) and I firmly believe these gatherings are as important to community life as worship itself. A picture of the heavenly banquet, as so many have noted, and a chance to be ministers of grace to one another.

  13. Leah Adams

    You captured the church potluck divinely. I miss them. When I was a child my church had one on the first Wednesday of each month. Now, we have a meal every Wednesday evening but it isn’t the same. It is prepared by the church’s kitchen staff. No more of Mrs. B’s pistachio salad or Mrs. H’s pecan pie or my grandmother’s homemade chicken and dumplings. Oh, how I miss that. Makes me want to start one.

    Can’t wait to sit around Jesus’ table in heaven.

  14. Jerralea

    You’ve described a church potluck so well! It is a beautiful thing when we all come together to share a meal. To me, it is like the early church fellowshiping in one another’s homes.

  15. Donna Blum

    Thank you Jennifer! Each time I visit your blog, I uncover divine treasure. Your word pictures, photographs and now videos are such a blessing and an inspiration to me. I can honestly say, I will never look at a ditch, a mailbox or a church potluck in the same way. Next week, I will celebrate my 43rd birthday. The thought occurred to me…when I grow up (in faith), I want to be just like you. Jennifer, you let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven. I want my life to count for Christ in the same way. Thank you for being a positive role model and for your Godly perspective, your genuine transparency, and your sacred heart. You are loved by many. Some that you know by name and others that you have never met.

  16. Audra Krell

    Beautiful Jennifer. I love potlucks. Really appreciate the comment about opening a bag of Chex mix being an act of grace, even those times when we just bring ourselves, it is such a beautiful display of God’s mercy and grace.

  17. laura

    Feasting on your pot luck, Jennifer. What a gift to have hearts and bellies filled all at once.

  18. Zoe faith

    Beautiful articulation of a beautiful ritual. Thank you!


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