Potty Luck Suppers

Declining membership is a major problem for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and doubtless will remain so until our leaders figure out why persons decline to be members.  Quite naturally, various groups of Presbyterians blame these problems on those who do not share their primary interests:  The church is too liberal or too conservative; there is too much or too little social action; too many or too few prayer meetings; too much or too little liturgy, and so on and on.


The fact is that the Presbyterian Church is in sharp decline for one simple reason — church suppers have gone “down the drain.”


When I was growing up, the real reason for becoming and remaining a Presbyterian (other than being eternally elect) was that their church suppers were the best in town.  The explanation of this situation wa obvious.  Reformed theology rejects the concept of “luck” — including “pot luck” — and, therefore, Presbyterian church suppers were predestined to be splendid.  I admit there is a one-dish exception, which is omnipresent, biblical and should be avoided.  In 2 Kings 4, Elisha serves a meal to the sons of the prophets and they complain, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!”  They could not eat it.  Devoting considerable research to this topic, I have established that death in the pot goes by the modern name:  tuna casserole.


According to John Mackay, the early Christian community was a koinonia before it was an ecclesia, and the supreme need today, he thought, was for the Christian Church to be a fellowship.  In the old days we could tell we had fellowship by watching the fine ladies and important gentlemen of the congregation perspiring in the kitchen in the enforced cooperation of a common project.  It was a salutary exercise in our common humanity to hear the head cook (usually a woman) order the bank president (usually a man) to get the rolls out of the oven.  At least I think that’s what she meant.  What she actually said ws, “George, get your buns moving.”


In our congregation the preachers were mostly poor, the choirs were always worse and Christian education was a pitiful joke, but the church suppers were wonderful.  On that fact each of the various factions could agree, and disagreements needed to be amicably resolved because everyone knew that if the McClintocks were not treated fairly and kindly, they would take their casserole and go over to the Methodists.


I am not sure what happened to reverse this trend.  Maybe everyone got too busy to cook and too important to serve.  In any case, when I first saw store-bought bread on a Presbyterian church supper table, I knew the Presbyterians had lost all sense of shame and would soon be in serious trouble.


I am certainly not blaming the women for the sorry state of the Presbyterian Church as revealed in its church suppers.  The fact is that, just like men, some women can’t cook and some won’t.  I am a good cook myself with a specialty in cookies.  After a hard day’s teaching, when I never know if anyone chewed on the topic — much less digested part of it — I often go home, bake up a batch of cookies and get an immediate and gratifying feedback.  A cookie is something you can really get your teeth into.


It is true that not every woman or man is as skillful in the kitchen as I am.  It took me a while to learn that creaming the butter does not mean mixing cream and butter.  Nevertheless, one of my fondest ecclesiastical memories was the time the men of the church cooked a meal alone.  Our church owned an elderly electric stove, used by the Apostle Paul when he was evangelizing in that area.  The man cooking the coconut cream pies pulled the racks out of the oven to take a look at his pies.  Deciding they were not quite done, he pushed them back into the oven.  The only difficulty was that he neglected to push the racks back with them.  When the custard hit the red-hot coils, we were treated to some passionate references to the Deity which I had not heard in seminary.


It was said a long time ago that you cannot have God for your Father without the Church for your mother.  For Christian Thanks-giving we might sing “Over the River and Through the Woods” to our grand Father’s house we go.  In this house are many rooms, but the warmest and most wonderful is the kitchen of our grand Mother, the Church, where the real Bread of Life is served.


Charles Partee
Presbyterian Outlook
November 1998