Episcopal Evangelism Newsletter, November 2022
This month we continue exploring our Episcopal Evangelism challenge for 2022: Creating authentic communities of friends within our churches to live out our baptismal promises and the church’s mission—to restore and be restored in unity with God and each other, in Christ.
Our guest Evangelism Catalyst this month is our beloved sister Jerusalem Greer, who writes about the extravagance of simple hospitality and undiminished joy.
As you read along, we hope you’ll keep the following verse and quote in your heart and mind:
“For these reasons, my brothers and sisters, when you get together to eat, wait for each other.” (1 Corinthians 11:33)
“Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
“Jesus comes to us in the brokenness of our health, in the shipwreck of our family lives, in the loss of all possible peace of mind, even in the very thick of our sins. He saves us in our disasters, not from them.” – Robert Farrar Capon
Years ago, during our first Lent as Episcopalians, my husband and our school-age sons and I offered to cook, serve, and clean up all our church’s Lenten suppers.
By tradition, these suppers are offered one weeknight during each of the six weeks of Lent in conjunction with a Bible or book study. These suppers are typically simple, almost meager in their menu as a way to honor the bare wilderness of the Lenten season. But as new Episcopalians, my family was not yet privy to all the ways our church observed the bareness and desert-like conditions of the season.
We all knew this: dinner was needed, Lent was early, and the weather outside was atrociously bitter. So what could be better than to cook and serve up some hearty bone-warming meals?
Blissfully unaware of the typical tone of these suppers, we set ourselves the goal of making sure each church member, each week, left warm and full. We cooked lasagna and spaghetti and roast chicken and savory bread pudding. We served French dip sandwiches and hearty beef soup and chicken enchilada casserole. We made huge salads and homemade dressings. But, because it was Lent, we never served dessert. We did have the good sense to know that much.
When our family offered to make the meals, we were aware of the sacrifice of time and effort we would be making. We could have bought large pre-made frozen meals at Sam’s Club or gone the canned soup and soda cracker route. But we chose to cook the meals ourselves for three reasons: We wanted to honor the dignity of our fellow church members by taking the time to cook them homemade dinners; we wanted to be inconvenienced by the experience (as part of our own Lenten discipline); and we wanted to involve our kids in the process as much as possible. We sought to interrupt our comfort—and the comfort of our kids—for the sake of our community, digging into the Benedictine vow of stability, doing our best to live out the command of Jeremiah 29:7 to “work for the welfare of our community.”
Our first step was to plan each meal by making a menu and shopping list on the Friday or Saturday preceding the meal. Sunday afternoons were for grocery shopping, and Sunday nights were for prepping. On those nights, my job was to make the family dinner so Nathan could focus on prepping the church meal—dicing vegetables, reducing stock, caramelizing onions. We ate a lot of meals those six weeks consisting of a rotisserie chicken or savory pies from the deli section, with a baguette and a salad. On Monday nights, it was more of the same—Nathan handling the next level of Lenten supper prep and me taking care of our dinner: pre-marinated pork tenderloins, steam-bag veggies, microwaved sweet potatoes. I chose things I could make without hogging the stovetop or what little counter space we had. While our dinner cooked, the boys and I did what we could to help—slicing cherry tomatoes for the salads, buttering the sliced Italian loaves, and grating cheese to top the casseroles. Once we had prepped as much as we could, our next step was to pack everything in reusable tubs and dishes to transport it to the church immediately after work and school on Tuesday.
On Tuesday nights, the boys set the tables and lit the candles while Nathan and I finished the cooking. Once the meal had been served, we closed the window between the parish hall kitchen and dining area and began to clean while the rest of the church members moved into their Lenten book study.
The boys gathered and scraped plates and washed pans. Nathan ran cycle after cycle of the industrial dishwasher, and I dried and put away dishes. If there were leftovers, we bagged them up in one-meal portions and set them out on the counter for folks to take home for the next day’s lunch or dinner. We wanted none of the food to be wasted and everyone’s bellies to be filled. Finally, at the very end, Wylie and Miles would gather the table runners and candles, putting them away in the closet until the next week’s gathering.
Many moons later, after I had been an Episcopalian long enough to experience a few more Lents, I would realize just how out-of-the-box and extravagant those “simple suppers” had been, and I would laugh in embarrassment at my mistake. But in all honesty, I will never regret one single dish we served. Many of the people who came to our Lenten suppers lived on very limited, fixed incomes, and seeing their excitement as we revealed each week’s menu was worth breaking any informal liturgical “rule” of the season.
Barbara Brown Taylor once said, “Our lives are inextricably bound up with the lives of other people,” and that, like it or not, is completely true. We are not islands, despite our best efforts at times to live that way. My family’s talent is cooking and serving food, so it makes sense for us to use this talent when serving the welfare of our community. By continuing to look for and participate in opportunities for our family to use this talent, we are teaching our children that they have a responsibility to all with whom their lives are bound: the neighbor, the church member, the mail carrier, the salesclerk, the teacher, the bus driver, the kid who smells funny.
Yes, we are all bound up in each other’s lives, but we have a choice in how we will live out that connection. And I hope that more often than not, we who profess to be bearers of the Good News of God in Christ will err on the side of full bellies and extra leftovers. I hope that whenever we find ourselves at tables with those who don’t know our ways or our traditions that we break bread with patience, openness, and generosity and allow the Holy Spirit to interrupt our agendas and our timetables in exchange for the gifts of abundant life for us all.