One of the many benefits of attending the Leadership Academy hosted by the Disciples of Christ’s Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation is that they assign you a coach that will journey with you for a while. Potluck Church’s behind-the-scenes coach is Dr. Preston Adams—a man who has known the joys, challenges and pitfalls of starting new efforts, including new churches. The role of the coach is to ask questions, to listen and to return us back to our vision and mission when we find ourselves overwhelmed or adrift. The coach holds us accountable, without being paternalistic. Nurturing questions drive the conversation forward.
If you are starting a new congregation or ministry, let me encourage you to seek out a formal coaching relationship that will journey with you over the challenges and through the transitions and doubt-filled wilderness times. Find a coach that will pray for you and your ministry, celebrate with you at the smallest of victories and help you to see and keep watch. Because it is through sustained attention and focus that you will see God building your ministry.
Thank you, Dr. Adams and Hope Partnership.
When I was a child, my mother kept a sourdough starter—this quart-sized mason jar of yucky-looking, beige goo. I didn’t exactly understand how the jar, which took up precious shelf space in the refrigerator and got pushed to the back of the fridge over the course of the week, related to the two loaves of bread that she baked every seventh day. But I knew that it was worth keeping, because something in that jar produced the most amazing breakfast bread. All you needed was a pat of butter to melt over the warm bread, and you were fortified for the day.
My job wasn’t to feed the starter, or leaven the dough, or bake the bread. My role in this operation was to take the second loaf, still warm enough to sweat in the ziplock bag, to a neighbor. I don’t know how Mom would do the choosing of which house was in need of the bread, but she did. Then she’d call for me, and I knew it was time to begrudgingly get on my shoes and traipse across the street to go for a visit with one of the neighbors and deliver a loaf of bread.
Mom built a leavened neighborhood for my childhood—one abundant, generous loaf at a time.
In the early months of worshiping together as Potluck Church, we intentionally took our time to slowly establish a culture of trust. We each led by example in opening up our lives to one another and daring to share our doubts. But very quickly we came to realize that building trust was not hard around the table. Something about the table and the meal and the sharing of food opened us up to one another—even newcomers and strangers—in a deep way.
In a research article, “A recipe for friendship: Similar food consumption promotes trust and cooperation,” Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach write about how their study found that people who eat similar foods are more trusting of one another. Even though our meals are potluck, and our plates are somewhat varied based on self-selection, just the act of eating from a common table together, in itself, builds significant, deep, and seemingly lasting trust.
[See article: http://home.uchicago.edu/~kwoolley/Woolley&FishbachJCP.pdf. Hear more on NPR’s Morning Edition (Feb. 2, 2017): “Why Eating the Same Food Increases People’s Trust and Cooperation” http://www.npr.org/2017/02/02/512998465/why-eating-the-same-food-increases-peoples-trust-and-cooperation]
More than a recipe book, Maggie Stuckey’s, Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup documents some of the many locations where neighbors and friends are gathering together regularly for a meal and connection. It’s a beautifully written and compiled collection—a how-to book that encourages the reader to cook up two seasonal pots of soup and invite some folks to sit together and eat. It warms my heart to read of how lives are connected and communities are built by these events, and yet we envision more.
Potluck Church is not just about eating together regularly; it’s about living out our faith in community. The questions that we ask one another give us a rhythm of accountability to ourselves and one another. We stop weekly to ask ourselves how we’ve experienced God and to honestly reflect on how we’ve lived out our commitments to follow Christ.
We don’t all have the same beliefs or the same hopes, but the common meal (made of various dishes and flavors) and the communion are symbols of the oneness that we find.
(See Maggie Stuckey. Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup Storey Publishing, LLC, 2013.)
John Mark Hicks posed this very question to a gathering at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ. It’s an important question—especially for those of us who claim to follow Jesus.
Think about the meals you typically eat. Do you eat with strangers? Do you often find yourself at the table with those who think or act differently than you? With those who have different backgrounds than you? When you break bread, whom do you share that bread with? Do you dine with outcasts? Would the righteous and self-righteous judge you for the company you keep at the table?
Maybe it would be an interesting exercise to keep a list of the people around the tables where we sit and eat for a few weeks. What might we learn from such a list?
(See Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, ”Come to the Table: What is God Doing in the Lord’s Supper” with John Mark Hicks. YouTube video, 44:04. Posted Mar. 5, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwEm8b2Mpsw)
For a new church, each and every step forward looks daunting as we approach it. But, when we take it bit by bit, and break the journey into baby steps, we find that we are making the journey, traveling over some distance together.
Today’s step: Ordering Potluck Church T-shirts. It’s taken us two years to come to this point of having the courage to claim in public that this is a real church, figuring out the design, finding a talented soul who could clean up our logo, and discerning how to handle the finances and purchasing as a group. Now that we’ve placed the order, it seems in hindsight silly that we were once daunted, even fearful. But that’s how hindsight works, right?
A lot of the new church journey seems to be consistently and prayerfully asking, “What’s the next right move, God?” And fearing not.
Meals shape us. When I think about the meals and tables that have shaped my life, one that quickly comes to mind is breakfast at Embry’s. I don’t know what led me to call her by her last name--maybe the “Mrs.” part was too difficult to pronounce for a toddler, but Embry was the sweet, sweet woman who cared for me while my mother taught school. She made me breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack each day of the school year until I was old enough to attend school with Mom. By the time I came into her life, Embry was the mother of nine adult children. Along the way, I lost count of the number of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Embry’s eat-in kitchen was tiny, especially with her Early American dinning room table squished into the corner. But when she got out the flour can and started singing country hymns as she patting out the biscuits, it was like a dinner bell that could be heard by what seemed like all of the Embrys throughout the county. Then again, maybe it was the aroma of bacon grease that lured them in. Regardless, the storm door would start slamming, as, one by one, they would come to that table and take a seat. With each “Hey, Mamaw,” she would get another thin Corelle plate down from the cabinet, and serve them the best coffee, eggs, biscuits, bacon, sausage and gravy ever served anywhere. By then, she had been honing her craft for decades, having retired as the head of an elementary school cafeteria that was known for making their delicious baked goods (and many other items) from scratch.
I never once heard her complain about the pile of dishes or the work that went into it all. She must have spent half of her Social Security check on groceries, but to her it was a deep joy, as she connected with each of her family members and got their days started off with love. There was always, always room for another plate at that little table.
Thank God for the Embrys of this world who show us the way.
written by Rachel
Set a table, invite Christ and others, leave an empty chair, serve up some powerful questions, and break bread.