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Issue 12-3

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.

This 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!

This 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:

“The 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.”

The 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.

What 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?

I’ve 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 this slum.

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.

I 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?”

“And 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

Karen Mains


Global Bag Project

We 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

Hungry Souls Transition Team

Still 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 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 being 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

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“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.”

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.

The third and final book in the set, Prayers for Springtime, provides prayers, psalms, and readings for this season associated with rebirth. Compact, with deluxe endpapers, it is perfect for those seeking greater spiritual depth. As a contemporary Book of Hours, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime heralds a renewal of the tradition of disciplined daily prayer, and gives those already using the first two volumes the completion they are seeking. With this volume, the series culminates with three prayer manuals encompassing the liturgical and calendar year with the offices for every day.

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