Church Potlucks: The Power of the Aggregate
While cleaning the kitchen in the gymnasium of Lowell School last
Sunday, packing up the remains of our monthly church potluck, I began
to think of the power of the aggregate. Actually, it appears that I
have been thinking about this for years, and my matured thoughts are
just beginning to pop forth all formed.
Because our church
meets in a school gym, we have to haul most of the things we need to
set up worship, to have special events, or to eat together. I planned
two or three potlucks for the church last year, and believe me, they
are work. Certain items—paper plates, cups and silverware—get packed
into bins and stored in the storage trailer, which is driven to the
back doors of the school and unpacked Sunday after Sunday. Generally, I
fill our Mazda Protégé at home with tablecloths and coffee urns and the
50 white coffee mugs I salvaged from a downtown Chicago restaurant’s
renovation. Truthfully, being project manager for a church potluck is
often a thankless task—no one knows how much work setting up and
tearing down there is—unless they too have done the setting up and
tearing down themselves.
It is also anxiety-provoking. This
Sunday, a potato bar, we had a plethora of Idaho and sweet-baked
potatoes, but no green salad, no crusty French bread, no drinks (we
almost didn’t have any desserts, but a tray of brownies marched in the
door at the last minute). I am constantly reminding myself that no one
in America will starve by only having a partial meal for one day. And
if anyone is still hungry, they’ll stop at a short-order place on the
way home or finish up some leftovers in their own fridge. So far, there
has been plenty of food, but a nutritionist certainly would squint her
eyes at the lack of complementary nutrients.
This Sunday, or
actually all last week, I was draggy and frankly, I wasn’t looking
forward to hauling the electric roasting pan and the 36-cup coffeemaker
out of basement storage, or climbing into the attic (where I still have
a couple of hours of work sorting and organizing the Christmas
decorations) and yanking down the oversize hampers that hold my
collection of tablecloths (at least four of the same kind). I have been
feeding crowds since I was 18 years and married David Mains, a
minister, and I feel that eating together is worth all the work. I am a
strong believer in the tipping-point-feeling that a beautiful
serving-table and food lovingly prepared can lend to a line of hungry
people. I love to watch people chat and laugh and sit together over a
meal and bend their heads closer to hear the conversation and make
plans to meet another time. I love all the little children running
around after Sunday School, snatching the cookies before the vegetables.
Sunday, however, I didn’t have to do the setup or the cleaning or the
washing up or the utensils-storing by myself. I had help from our
missional community (who are mostly Wheaton College kids). “How can I
help?” was the standard question of the morning. One student even
offered to come home with David and me and help us unload our car!
is the power of the aggregate (or as that old American saying goes,
“Many hands make light work.”) The aggregate can lift loads from the
individual, but it can also challenge corruption, take on injustice,
demand civil rights, protest, demonstrate, organize and attempt to make
a better world for the downtrodden.
An article in The Nation magazine summarizes this:
great movements that changed the course of our history accomplished
more than spectacle and communication: they actually exercised power.
They forced elites to inaugurate reforms that they otherwise would have
avoided, as when the writers of the Constitution bent to popular
enthusiasm for direct democracy and ceded to voters the right to elect
representatives to the lower house, or when the Thirteenth Amendment
was passed during the Civil War ending chattel slavery. Or, later in
the nineteenth century, when Congress responded to widespread agitation
among farmers and workers with legislation to curb monopolies. Or in
the 1930s, when the national government finally granted workers the
right to organize and inaugurated the first government income-support
programs. Or when the Southern apartheid system was struck down in
response to the civil rights movement. Or when the antiwar movement
helped to force the withdrawal of American forces from Southeast Asia.”
danger of people-power movements is that they can always collapse into
anarchy, violent and uncontrolled protest with riots in the streets.
All too frequently, the history of people movements is born in bloody
revolution with inevitable despots and dictators rising to restore
order and to grasp power.
Even with that, I actually believe
in the power of the people and think that most of the problems in our
present American society will be solved not by government, but by
distressed and concerned aggregates forming to solve what ails us.
I really believe in and have yet to see rise to any extent, is the
power of the people filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Or
perhaps this is such a long history, this march through eons of time,
that I can only see the little piece of it that has to do with the
small passage in which I am now living.
What would happen in
society if everyone in the church “got into the kitchen” and began to
first live according to God’s principles (which are always
revolutionary, because they are countercultural; think of Christ’s
command to love—not just like, not just tolerate—but love our enemies) and then impacted their near communities for good?
heard of a church recently where the members decided it was
unconscionable for fragile children to be sent through the foster-care
system and deliberately began training healthy families to take these
children into their own homes. Now that’s the power of the aggregate.
No mob protests here, no marching with signs, no demands—just
prayerful, careful intentional action.
I turned 70 in
January in the El Ejido slum on the edge of the city of Santiago in the
Dominican Republic. We were doing site visits and interviews so we
could choose the best stories to film that show the remarkable results
of the Community Health Evangelism strategy of empowering members in
under-resourced communities to solve their own problems. This is a
long, persistent process. In El Ejido, one woman, Mercedes (who we call
a champion), worked and lived and prayed and visited house-to-house,
ministering to the needs of her neighbors, for 27 years. Through CHE
she thought she saw the answer to all those prayers. In 2003 a
committee from the community was formed and they began to pray, often
praying at 5:30 every morning for their friends and family who lived in
By the time we visited this year, 2013, community
activism (seamlessly based on scriptural teaching) had cleaned up a
free-standing garbage dump, repaired a 20x40-foot hole in one of the
streets, done cholera treatment training, sponsored door-to-door
evangelism outreaches, and persuaded the local government (finally—this
really took some time) to clean up and repair the open running sewer
that flooded into the homes whenever the rains came. (The authorities
needed 42 trucks to haul out all the refuse—think of the disease
possibilities in all that.)
We took a shot of Mercedes
laboriously climbing the stairs leading from where this once-open canal
now stood cleaned and cemented. Watching the outtake of this champion
of her people slowly climb those stairs, I thought, Oh, her knees must be hurting her.
She is, after all, 60-something. At that moment, Mercedes turned into
the sunlight that was streaming down between the warren of walls and
homes and passageways of El Ejido slum and suddenly she disappeared
into that light—just disappeared.
This is what I mean by
people power-filled with Holy Spirit power. When any one person steps
into the light of God and begins to grieve over the ruin in the world,
even the chaos of her own community, she disappears into that light.
And when a group forms together, broken-hearted over the things that
break the heart of God, and they begin to earnestly seek His face, not
only are individuals changed, not only are families and committees
changed, but whole communities are renovated and renewed. They are
empowered to make a difference—their collective life, their life
together alters the places where they live. Without violence. Without
anarchy. Without bloody revolution. Without reverting to a despot.
believe in the aggregate. When there are enough people working in the
kitchen, the cleanup goes much faster, the labor is shared, and lots of
people are asking, “Is there anything else I can do to help?” Some are
even wondering, “How can we make this potluck process easier, better?”
he said to them, ‘Go into the all the world and proclaim the good news
to the whole creation. … And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name, they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’” Mark 15:16-18, NRSV
Global Bag Project
are praying for and looking for people who want to be part of the
stateside Global Bag Project effort. We need folk (volunteers) with
marketing and sales experience and savvy. Folk with writing abilities
would be great, someone to set up home parties, contact churches about
sponsoring our small staff and outreach programs overseas. We can meet
once a month, or use Skype or set up conference calls. Please pray and
if you are looking for some work where you can contribute your
abilities toward growing it (and yourself), ask God if GBP might be
where that could be.
If you are interested in seeing our Partner’s Proposal, we will happily send you a copy. Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hungry Souls Transition Team
meeting and praying together and coming up with wonderful ideas. We
will hopefully be publishing a schedule of growth events in September
for a start-up schedule of events and growth experiences in 2014.
Karen's Blogs for This Week
Link is http://blog.karenmains.com/blog/thoughts-by-karen-mains.
As much as Karen is traveling, her blogging is naturally a little
erratic, but the titles of blogs for April 1-5 are: “Noises in the
Trunk of the Car,” “Broken Vows,” “Extraordinary Journeys,” “Church
Potluck” and “The Random Habit of Telling Good News.”
The Soulish Food e-mails are
posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web
site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to
register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might
want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.
“The aggregate can lift loads from the individual, but it can also
challenge corruption, take on injustice, demand civil rights, protest,
demonstrate, organize and attempt to make a better world for the
Okay, now Hungry Souls is needing your recommendations.
We are looking for books or magazine articles that deal with the
aggregate—groups of people—accomplishing extraordinary results. There
are plenty of books about individuals whose lives make a difference in
the world, but we aren’t finding stories about churches, self-formed
committees, neighborhood activists who change their societies. The
change doesn’t have to be huge, but it needs to be deep, significant
enough and practical enough that others notice.
If you’ve read or know of something or are part of something, please let us know.
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