Nothing quickens the heartbeat of a true Church Lady like the word Potluck. There’s just something about feeding the congregation that scratches the itch that perpetually tingles in that spot a CL can’t reach. For me, the word potluck conjures sentient memories of egg coffee, hot dishes, homemade dinner rolls, and a dessert table laden with enough sweet treats to put me into a diabetic coma.
The potluck is an opportunity to show off our best of the best dishes, passed down from CL to CL. Sometimes recipes are shared, but sometimes they are a closely guarded generational secret. And sometimes, the CL who dubs herself to be In Charge, decides that a contribution is not quite up to snuff, and removes it from the serving table.
Oh yes – that actually happened to a friend of mine.
CL vs Brownies
As a young wife in the rural church her husband grew up in, she very much wanted to make a good impression, so when the opportunity arose to contribute to the next church potluck, she was happy to take part. She was assigned a dessert.
They were pinching pennies as newlyweds – there was no extra money to shop for ingredients that weren’t already in her kitchen. She sat down with her recipes to figure out what she could make with what she already had on hand. Her brownie recipe checked all the boxes. She had one shot to get this right, and much to her relief, the brownies turned out perfectly.
On Sunday she proudly delivered them to the church kitchen, adding them to the collection of other fancy desserts. Later, going through the serving line, she noticed her brownies were missing. When the potluck was over she went to collect her things from the kitchen and discovered her brownies had never been served.
One of the older women “helped her understand”, as she pulled the rejected brownies from the shelf underneath the serving window, that her brownies were not considered a Sunday dessert, but rather a lunch item that a farm wife might serve during the week.
She was crushed.
I have a few thoughts about this unfortunate story:
- Must dishes be “assigned”? I grew up in this church too, so I know how they rolled. There was a committee for everything, ESPECIALLY potlucks, and every committee needs to have someone in charge. Apparently the Church Lady In Charge that day thought it best to decide for herself who would bring what, instead of asking the ladies in question what they would like to bring. For heaven’s sake, let the financially destitute newlywed girl bring a bag of chips if that’s what she can afford, and call it a day.
- This was a test. This was their convoluted way of following the biblical principle of the “older women teaching the younger women in the church” how to be a good church lady. Well, my friend learned a lesson that day.
- How is any kind of dessert not “good enough” for Sunday? Makes me want to bake something super fancy on a Tuesday. Also, if I am ever “assigned” a dessert for a Sunday potluck, I’m gonna grab a bag of stale cookies from the corner gas station, in solidarity with women everywhere whose carefully curated potluck dishes have been marginalized by the CLIC. (That’s ‘church lady in charge’, in case you missed it earlier.)
- It is now my mission in life to eliminate the power of the CLIC. Yup – I said it – and I mean it.
Sometimes, the church ladies get it right.
It’s only fair that I share a story where the church ladies not only got it right, they straight up knocked it out of the park in a very big way.
A few years ago a friend of mine became so ill she required a number of weeks in hospital. A few of us were quite concerned and wanted to visit her, but she didn’t want anyone seeing her in her current condition. I understood and respected her wishes. But time went by and she was still in hospital, and her family was struggling without her. I mean, I consider myself to be very respectful of boundaries, but only if they remain healthy. This felt like a shame-driven boundary to me, so I ignored it and went to the hospital anyway.
I’m pretty sure she felt uncomfortable with me being there. I know I acted against her wishes. I was prepared for her to refuse my visit, in which case my plan was to hang out in the hospital coffee shop, waiting for an opportunity to at least speak to a family member. I was concerned she would be offended and turn me away, but I was more worried about the damage being done to her spirit by misplaced shame.
She let me in, I stayed too long, and I made sure she understood she was loved, her family was loved, and I would find a way to support and help them through this incredibly difficult season of illness and infirmity.
I started cooking.
I didn’t ask if they needed meals, I told them when I was showing up to deliver meals, cuz I’m a pushy CL when I need to be.
I conferred with a mutual friend who had also been trusted with the details of our friend’s illness. She agreed that this dear family would need long-term support. A week of meals was a good start, but that wasn’t going to be enough. We did what any self-respecting CL would do under similar circumstances. We prayed.
God gave us names of fellow church ladies who could be trusted to shut up and serve.
You know what I’m talking about – the “How can I more accurately pray for her?” kind of comments are all too common. You don’t need private personal details to pray accurately for ANYONE. Jesus doesn’t need you to get the deets right – He’s got that covered. Just pray for God to do His thing.
In very short order we had a group of CLs who were cooking and delivering meals to me, and I in turn delivered them to the family. The CLs remained anonymous, the family got fed, and my friend’s personal details were protected. It worked so beautifully that the family asked us to slow down the meals after a couple weeks. Their freezer was overflowing to the point that they were passing extra meals to their adult kids and caregivers.
Then the question arose – In a church the size of ours (it’s a big one), are there other people struggling who need this kind of help and support? Why yes, there are, thanks for asking.
And the Silent Angel Army was born.
A brilliant CL got us all organized on a shared google calendar. We could access the calendar and sign up for whatever meal/snack/service we could provide. This provided anonymity and appropriate coverage of needs, as well as ensuring that the family in question didn’t end up with 12 lasagnas.
The rules were simple:
- Sign up for whatever you can provide.
- Follow through on your commitment to serve.
- If you must talk about them, tell it to Jesus.
This initiative was picked up by the church’s women’s ministry and many more families were blessed in their time of need. How many families? I have no idea – doesn’t matter. What matters is that people in need got the help they needed, and CLs had an opportunity to provide the purest kind of service – prayer and practical support, without gossip. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions pressed pause on this ministry. I sincerely hope that we will be able to press play again soon.
While I may have had the initial idea, the Silent Angel Army grew into exactly what it was meant to be when I let go of it and let God take over. Which begs the question, is there anything else I am trying to control that isn’t mine anymore? Just because I start something doesn’t mean I own it.
What I DO want to start and own, immediately, is a batch of Good Enough For Sunday Brownies. My friend shared her recipe, just in case you want to get in the the chocolatey goodness, potluck not notwithstanding. Check it out here, and happy baking to all my CLs!