When I got out of the car and headed for the welcome picnic, ladies were not setting food out on folding tables but were lining up the squash casseroles and fried pies on a giant, flatbed farm trailer. Everything else looked normal to me. They were firing up the grill for hotdogs and hamburgers and stacking paper plates and red solo cups. People whispered that I would have to try a little of every dish so no one would feel left out. They had all the usual trappings of a congregational potluck, except for that trailer.
I knew there were standard-issue tables inside the church. But no one had wrestled them outside to serve the buffet. Instead, the church had asked someone to clean off a trailer from his farm, hook it up to a truck or tractor and pull it a few miles to the church. Though it was certainly more work, they didn’t view this set-up as extravagant. Church members seemed surprised that this touch of rural church life delighted me. While I saw it as an abundant offering, the trailer-as-buffet-table was just the norm for them.
Every week, I write a prayer of dedication that focuses on God’s abundant gifts to us. I love hymns that sing of God’s bounty. But I have trouble keeping that notion of plenty in the forefront during the rest of the week. It’s a hard thing to do when money is tight and time is short. I find it’s easy to fall into patterns that focus on what’s lacking. These patterns happen in the church, too. We quibble over spending a few extra dollars for the choir or the youth. We worry about people stealing from the community garden or the child who’s taking all the cookies at fellowship time. We have fooled ourselves into thinking there won’t be enough.
Yet God’s message in our Scriptures is one of abundance. God’s story is about jugs of oil that don’t run dry and thousands served from a few fish and loaves. Showing abundance is just the way our God acts. Abundance has to be our baseline and starting point, too. We don’t get extra credit for giving generously or going the second mile. As disciples, those actions are simply our standard.
What I felt at the picnic was a community whose standard is abundance. I don’t think there was any debate about whether to use folding tables or the trailer. Everyone simply assumed that the trailer was the way to offer generous hospitality. That decision demonstrated abundance by offering a spacious, sturdy and playful centerpiece to the gathering. Dishes and plates weren’t crowded together, so we had ample room to spoon up baked beans and cut thick slices of butterscotch pie. No one balanced plates on rickety tabletops since there was a solid, strong piece of equipment to hold all the food. And the flowered tablecloths spread on the weathered wood made the setting feel like home.
In this one small act, the church showed that abundance is their normal way of doing business. I doubt they saw this as a theological decision; they were just putting on a picnic after all. But for me, that’s what was so special about the meal. The church was just being itself. In doing so, they demonstrated abundant living as an everyday event.
Emma Nickel serves as stated supply pastor of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Greensburg, Kentucky. She is passionate about small church ministry, cooking and playing with her cat, Scout.