Last night, we had one of our Lenten potluck suppers at the Church of the Heavenly Rest.
Those of you who have spent any time in a church community are familiar with potlucks (or “cover dishes,” as they are called in certain parts of the American South). The concept is simple: everyone attending an event brings a dish to share with the group. In spite of the simplicity of the premise, however, some people have a tendency to make potlucks as complicated as possible. At the church where I grew up, for instance, dishes were assigned according to the first letter of a potential contributor’s last name: A through K brought main dishes, L through R brought salads, and S through Z brought desserts. I understand the impulse behind these guidelines; they are one way to ensure that you won’t have 75 apple pies for dinner. At the same time, I always found these requirements frustrating, and not just because I have an “R” last name and may be the worst salad maker in the world. Rather, guidelines like these tend to hamper people’s creativity and prevent them from offering their specialty, the dish of which they are most proud. And as it turns out, the alphabetical guidelines I grew up with solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. At Heavenly Rest, we have no such “potluck rules,” and yet the buffet table always features a healthy balance of main dishes, vegetables, salads, and desserts. The potluck, in other words, works itself out even without the influence of external guidelines.
In some ways, life in the Church is a lot like a potluck. As members of the Christian community come together to be fed, each person brings something to the table and offers gifts to build up the Body of Christ. The temptation for leaders in the Church is to regulate these offerings, to assume that we know the best use for people’s gifts and talents. (The equivalent of making everyone with a certain letter in their name bring a salad is saying, “Oh, you teach kindergarten? How would you like to teach Sunday School?!) But if the Church is truly to embrace an understanding of vocation, then we must recognize that people can offer gifts we may have never imagined. Spiritual vitality in the Christian community is not about assuming that we know best and not about insisting that our approach is the only approach. Instead, we are called to embrace the great variety of spiritual gifts in the Church and trust that God will guide us to use them wisely.