Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Potluck Edition

Post Author: Askie

Lattice Pie being held by someone in an apronDear Askie,

Every month, our church has a potluck lunch after worship. It’s a great time of fellowship, with lots of delicious food. Every family brings something to share, but our pastor doesn’t. She comes to the potlucks, but she never brings anything. Our previous pastor always brought such delicious pies—his wife was famous for them! Shouldn’t our pastor contribute to these community meals? How can I get her to cook something?

the Congregation’s Appointed Kitchen Elder

Dear CAKE,

I’m glad to hear that your congregation has such regular meals together–and that they are such a wonderful time of fellowship and community for the individuals and families of your church. Breaking bread together and sharing common meals has always been a major part of Christian fellowship. As you know, sharing meals with his disciples (and with the poor and the outcast and the sinners) was so integral to the life of Christ that he made the act of eating and drinking itself a sacrament. Whether we eat bread and wine at the communion table or ham and jello salad in the fellowship hall, eating together can be a sacred practice and a wonderful way to strengthen our relationships with one another.

But you didn’t ask about the theology of shared meals. You asked why your pastor doesn’t bring any food to potlucks. There could be many reasons for that. One might be that your pastor simply doesn’t cook, or doesn’t enjoy cooking. It’s lovely that your previous pastor’s wife was a masterful pie baker, but Pie Crust 101 and Intro to Casseroles are not offered at most seminaries.

Another reason might be that in preparing for Sunday mornings, your pastor has a lot to do. There might not be time for her to throw together a salad in between finishing up the sermon, teaching confirmation class, and getting the church’s finicky printer to work. You don’t mention whether your current pastor has a spouse or children, but if she’s trying to wrestle small children into appropriate clothing and get to church in time for Sunday School, a potluck dish may be the last thing on her mind. As you said in your letter, it was the previous pastor’s wife, not the pastor himself, who was the baker in the family. Sometimes female ministers are pressured to fulfill the congregation’s traditional expectations for both “pastor” and “pastor’s wife,” and they simply can’t keep up with the effort to be two people!

Something else to bear in mind is that for you, Sunday morning worship and potlucks and fellowship activities are optional. For your pastor, they are an important part of work. She is certainly “bringing something” on Sunday morning—a sermon, liturgy, carefully selected hymns, a listening ear and sympathetic hug for the church member who has lost a spouse or been diagnosed with cancer. My guess is that when potluck time rolls around, she’s also bringing a prayer to bless the food. Sunday morning holds the busiest few hours of your pastor’s week, the one time when her whole congregation is gathered, and she may not be able to squeeze in one more obligation during those precious hours.

If there’s typically a major food shortage at your congregation’s potlucks, and people are going away hungry, then this might be a topic that church leadership needs to discuss and address. However, Askie has rarely seen a church potluck that did not abound in leftovers. Since you say there’s always lots of delicious food, I’m guessing this isn’t a problem in your context.

To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, perhaps this is an occasion where you could “ask not what your pastor can do for you, but what you can do for your pastor.” Each week, your pastor “feeds” the congregation through Word and Sacrament. Perhaps these potluck lunches are a time when the congregation can feed her in return. What a grace it would be to generously feed and welcome not just your pastor (and her family, if applicable), but anyone who cannot or does not contribute to the table.

Hopefully that helps, CAKE. May you and your congregation continue, as the early Christians did, to break bread together and eat with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46).


Image by: Andrew Malone
Used with permission
1 reply
  1. Sarah Weisiger
    Sarah Weisiger says:

    YASSSS. This. I *love* to cook, but I haven’t had time and energy to spare for church potluck cooking since I moved from part-time to full-time ministry. I have had to make the decision–finish my sermon or finish the cookies? The sermon always seems more important, and though I wish I could share my baking skills, I am so grateful that others are able to. Of course, not everyone in our congregations can cook every time either, but they are still welcomed at the table, so it is a gift to be in a church where people appreciate what you can bring, rather than pointing out what you didn’t.


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