On meals and community

So thinking about comfort foods last week got me thinking about comforts related to food. Namely, I’m talking about my childhood church and our monthly communal meals before the Meeting for business.

A lot of people know them as “potlucks”, but honestly I had never heard that word until college. For us, it was always called carry-in. And the monthly carry-in meal was a special time.

That Sunday would roll around and everyone would be bringing in their crockpots, using up any outlet they could find in the kitchen or dinning room. The fridge would be full, and there’s probably be at least one or two things on the stove or a casserole in our very 70’s oven. We’d settle in for service, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just us kids who were eager for the hour to pass. Amazing smells would fill the sanctuary, hearty and warm. And there were probably a few occasions when you’d hear someone’s stomach during Open Worship.

Our church was small, only a few handful of families. But carry-in always made it feel so much bigger. The table was always full of more food than we could possibly eat. Margaret would always make her turkey and noodles with homemade egg noodles. It was no secret that that dish was my favorite. There’d be meatballs, mac and cheese, various casserole dishes, and most likely warm rolls as well. There were always some sort of dessert too, but frankly, it was those turkey and noodles that I truly remember.

We’d gather together to eat and talk. There was never really a kids table. There weren’t many kids, so I’d either sit with my friend Kristen or with my mom. Or maybe with my aunt, or Eddy and Shirley, because Eddy was like a grandpa to me. And really, these people were my family. My parents were married in that church, my mom stayed after the divorce, and they watched my brother and I grow up. It wasn’t until sometime in high school that I really stopped going — joining my friends in their church with a rocking praise band and a legitimate (and free) coffee/espresso bar in the lobby. (No really, the church roasted coffee beans; even sold them to local businesses.)

I don’t keep in touch with really anyone from that church any more, outside of my actual relatives. Most of the elders have passed away. Kristen is married, as are two of her other three siblings I think. Tanya’s boys stopped going to church before I did, and even mom’s lost touch with Tanya (as well as most everyone else from the church).

But it’s not just the people that I miss. Nor is it just the food — though yes, I might cry if someone made Margaret’s turkey and noodles for me again. What I miss is that community. The sense of having people to gather with, share a meal with, who are a present part of your life. It’s not really about having someone be active in every part of your life, but really just being present in each others lives on a regular basis and doing so intentionally. I had that informally in college — a group of us would always meet in the cafe pretty much every day. We’d eat and talk. Being a religious school, our conversations would sometimes go in that area. But we’d also just be there for each other.

The closest I’ve come to having this again is when I’d go on tour with Mucca. But outside of touring, I just don’t feel like I have that community here in Chicago. And this is no fault of anyone, including myself. You can’t force a community. But it is something I’m missing, and something I’d like to have part of my life again. So whatever happens to me in this next stage of my life, I hope that I can find this sense of community again.