January 22, 2021

The Liturgical Gangstas 8: The Potluck

Welcome to IM’s popular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different liturgical traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Peter Vance Matthews is an Anglican priest and founding pastor of an AMIA congregation.
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction. (Alan’s not a priest. If he is, his wife and kids need to know.)
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.

Here’s this week’s question: What foods would be served at a potluck meal that most represented your church tradition?

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: Hmm, church potlucks, yum! On the other hand, lime green jello with tiny marshmellows and some mayonnaise mixed in, not quite so appealing. But, what would you find at a potluck during Lent in a church that comes out of an Arab background but has a significant number of converts?

Well, first you need to know what the Orthodox fasting rules are. The simplest way to explain it is that during fasting periods the Orthodox become vegans. We are expected to not eat any animal products: no meat, no milk, no eggs, no cheese, and one additional product, no olive oil. So what would we eat at a potluck?

There is no such thing as an Arab potluck without hummus, a Levantine Arab dip/spread made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, garlic, olive oil (the olive oil is replaced during Lent), and lavash, a flat Syrian bread. And, how can we ever forget rice with lentils, or lentil soup?

I am in a beach area, so there would be boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce. In a mixture of cultures, how about some spaghetti with clam sauce?

We have people of Russian descent, so, bortsch! Someone will inevitably bring in cabbage rolls. Hmm, and a delicious pirog, filled with onions and finely chopped cabbage maybe with some mushrooms. We might even see a good potato soup.

There would be desserts made with honey. And, since this is the USA, a good old-fashioned fruit cup. But, I must stop now. Sorry, iMonk, but after all that I think I am headed out towards a nice Middle Eastern restaurant with my mouth watering.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist:Talk about a question I could be an expert on! Let me preface this by saying that I’ve never eaten in a United Methodist Church outside the state of Arkansas. I have no clue what yankee Methodists eat but what I’m going to describe is pretty accurate for the Methodist churches in Arkansas that have had the pleasure of feeding me.

One other caveat – my experience has been that the United Methodist Men do breakfast and the United Methodist Women organize and cook for the potlucks. In my current church you can’t beat either. Seriously. The scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy are top notch. I need to organize one of these soon.

O.K., let’s get started with a good old United Methodist potluck. If you’ve seen me, you’ll know that my starting place is going to be out of character, but I’m serious: salads. There are all kinds and they are all pretty good, but the broccoli salad is by far the best and I hate broccoli. It’s got craisins (cranberry & raisin), sunflower seeds, and some type of mayo dressing to it. It’s wonderful and I eat a lot of it when given the chance. The next thing on my plate is going to be the weird looking jello salad with fruit (probably cherries), mini-marshmallows, and pecan pieces in it. That will go on the opposite side of the plate from the broccoli salad so the juices stay where they are supposed to. Next, I’ll pile on some version of a potato/hashbrown casserole with cornflakes as a topping. I’ll probably take two spoon fulls so it will serve as a buffer in the middle to separate my two salads and the next two perfect ingredients. Green beans with a huge piece of ham hock in it, and some barbeque beans with bacon. The main part is a chicken casserole with cheese and some kind of breaded topping, although that might be cornflakes as well. That goes wherever there is room and will probably be on the side with the green beans or broccoli salad because I don’t mind all that mixing together early on. On top will be two yummy yeast rolls. I’ll go put my plate down and come back for a glass of tea and, if I’m lucky, a piece of chocolate pie – homemade crust and everything.

Boom. I’m so hungry right now.

Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican: First, proper Anglicans do not have potlucks. We have catered dinners (or at the very least common meals.) Potlucks are for the other religions. Ahem.

The catered dinner is served on fine china with matching silver. We want to be green AND stylish.

No salads. We have fresh greens with an array of balsamic and vinaigrette dressings. There is absolutely no ranch dressing allowed! Oh, we might have bok choy as an alternative, but only on special occasions.

Steamed asparagus is a favorite for a vegetable. When asparagus is not available we will often substitute Rapini.

Sliced bread is never found at an Anglican dinner. It must be unsliced and chewy. Easily chewed bread is simply to bourgeois.

If there is a meat dish it is small and light – lemon chicken or smoked salmon. Meat loaf, party sized wieners and tuna fish are not allowed. There are other churches for those things.

Anglicans find casseroles unseemly.

For drink there is mineral water and herbal teas. After dinner, the wet bar is open and offers a fine assortment of import beers, scotch, gin, wine and the traditional Anglican drink – sherry.

At Easter we add cake and champagne. One can’t be too joyous when celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, can one? (There is always large amounts of champagne because of the corollary between the amount of champagne and the level of joy. I.e., the more champagne the more joy!)

Oh, and by the way, reservations are required.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: Whheeeww, a potluck – awesome! OK, this ought to be interesting, a Catholic potluck – it all depends where this is happening, and we are in America – I’ve never lived anywhere else – so we’ll stick with that.

Let us begin with the drink, shall we? 🙂
Beer, of course! What the heck is any Catholic picnic or potluck of reception after the Chrism Mass or anything without some beer. Nobody’s worried if they Pastor sees you, he’s got one in his hand! What kind of beer you say? Well, depends on what part of the country you’re in – could even be PBR baby – Louisiana’s got them some serious redneck Cajun Catlicks down’neya.

Wine: someone was carrying around carafes of wine at the reception after our parish Lenten Mission last night. Surely at a potluck, there would be the Vino. If it’s more suburban, probably more wine than beer, but you never know.

And on to the food…
We do love to call ourselves the ecclesiastical land of the great both/and, so food is all over the place. Could be anywhere from good old fried chicken to… yes… wait for it… fried FISH! ha! It is Lent after all.

Of course, if we travel, again, to the deep South, in the land of our Acadian siblings, I guaraawntee they be some good food dooown in dem place! You might git a table full o’ boiled crawfish or a giant pot a Gumbo. My old TV cooking guru, Justin Wilson, used to say “Is yo Mama Catlick and can she make a roux?” ha! Classic.

And the ethnic enclave nature of early Catholicism in this country will pull in that international flavor to the old potluck – talk about luck! Wait, is this apologetics or what? You can look forward to the likes of Lasagna brought by the DiGiacomo family (her Grandmother was from Sicily you know), Champ courtesy of the Murphys, Pierogis and Kielbasa thanks to the Kowalskis and maybe some seriously good Mole sauce with Turkey breast and homemade Enchiladas from the Gonzales clan. Awesome! Oh, and the fried chicken and macaroni and cheese is always carried in by the Smith family – Smith? – yeah, I know, they’re converts. ha! A man could get right hefty at a potluck like that.

Soooo, when do we eat?

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: When we enter the final eschaton, and the great cloud of witnesses is assembled before the throne, and crowns are given for the contributions of the various and sundry traditions that comprise the Church, I know not what other reward we Baptists will receive, but we will definitely be rewarded for contributing the Baptist potluck to Christian experience.

I tell you there is no greater act of Christian hedonism (apologies to Piper), of pure, unmitigated, unadulterated, undiluted, culinary pleasure than the Baptist potluck. It is as bacchanalian a display of orgiastic food consumption as you’ll ever see this side of Heaven.

The sine qua non is, of course, fried chicken. There simply can be no potluck without it. Oh, somebody will put a plate of ham on the table, to be sure. And that’s ok (John the Baptist had his role to play too), but the centerpiece, the apex of the potluck is a large, glorious, beautiful, cholesterol-filled, platter of fried chicken. It is essential. It is, in a word, beautiful.

Somebody will normally bring barbecue as well, which will send you into the stratosphere. Now, Yankees think barbecue is a verb (bless their hearts), and Texans commit the ultimate blasphemy of thinking it’s beef, but we all know that when God says “barbecue” He’s thinking of pulled (or chopped) pork drenched in sauce. I’m from South Carolina, originally, so I know that it should be mustard-based sauce, but after eleven years in Georgia, I’ve come to appreciate what they do down here as well. (Though I will never forgive this state its absence of rice and hash from the barbecue spread.)

Then to the lesser but also important offerings: rice, brown gravy, gibblet gravy, blackeyed peas, collards, garden peas, string beans, butter beans, squash casserole, broccoli casserole, [fill-in-the-blank] casserole, potato salad, mixed salads in casserole dishes, macaroni and cheese with a toplayer of cheese an inch thick, potato salad, chicken bog, brown rice with mushrooms. Sombebody usually throws in a plate of small, rectangular pimento cheese sandwiches, for some reason. And there’s usually a battalion of crockpots including things like chili, Brunswick stew, and little sausages floating in barbecue sauce. And, of course, the rolls, biscuits, and breads.

Then there are those wonderful in-between grey-area foods: foods that everybody knows should be on the dessert table but that are, for some God-ordained reason, left on the food table so as to assuage the guilt of anybody who want 2 or 3 desserts. This involves, among other things: watermelon, congeal salad, lime fluff, and, thank you Lord, pineapple casserole (a dish deserving its own post, might I add).

Then to the desserts: chocolate cake, caramel cake, red velvet cake, carrot cake, cheesecake, apple cobbler, cherry cobbler, peach cobbler, blackberry cobbler, divinity, chocolate delight with graham crust, vanilla delight, cherry crunch, keylime cake (if you haven’t tasted keylime cake, you may not be saved), homemade cookies, cupcakes, brownies of ten different kinds, lemon meringue pie, cherry pie, apple pie, chocolate pie, keylime pie, and, of course, banana pudding.

As for drinks, there usually aren’t that many at a potluck: sweet tea, unsweet tea, and coffee. Why, I ask you, would there be a need for more drinks than these?

Thus, the Baptist potluck. I’ve barely scratched the surface, but this will have to suffice.

William Cwirla/Lutheran: The Lutheran potluck is legendary if not infamous, thanks to Garrison Keillor and his “News from Lake Wobegon.” Potlucks among Lutherans vary widely based on region. City congregations will be somewhat more sophisticated than rural; congregations outside the midwest will have a greater diversity of foods. The gold standard for the Lutheran potluck is rural midwest. Here are the basic elements.

1. Coffee. Gallons of it. Coffee is the 4th sacrament of the Lutheran church. It must be percolated in one of those huge barrel percolators, never brewed. Use the cheap stuff, too. None of that fancy Starbucks or Peets French Roast. (Besides, who would want to do that to good coffee, anyway?)

2. The “Hot Dish.” This is the Hemi engine that drives the Lutheran potluck. Here is a generic recipe:

1 cup chopped or ground meat of your choice or 1 can of tuna
1 cup elbow macaroni (bow ties if you want to be fancy)
1 can cream of (mushroom, chicken, or celery) soup
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 chunk of Velveeta or a jar of Cheese Whiz

Mix ingredients. Pour into a casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. (Wisconsin variant: Skip the Velveeta; cover with 2 cups Colby or mild Cheddar.) Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve lukewarm.

3. The “Vegetable Side Dish.” String beans with cream of mushroom soup and sliced almonds. Warm potato salad (with onions, bacon and vinegar). Sauerkraut. Wisconsin: Potatoes au gratin topped with cheese.

4. Salad. Green salad generally means Iceberg lettuce (no arugula!) with tomatoes and cucumbers topped with ranch dressing. Jello salad with some combination of orange or lime jello, marshmallows, shredded carrots, and possibly canned pineapple. Mayonnaise or Cool Whip may also be involved. Broccoli salad tossed with mayonnaise, bacon and golden raisins.

5. Dessert. Brownies and Bundt cakes. Toll-House chocolate chip cookies. And the notorious “Jello Cake” (can’t eat enough jello, we say): Yellow sheet cake infused with molten jello (cherry or some berry flavor) and chilled. Cool-Whip. Wisconsin option: Apple pie topped with melted cheddar cheese.

6. Beverage: Coffee (see above). At Reformation bratwurst/sauerkraut suppers, beer may be served, depending on the congregational level of pietism. Wine is generally frowned upon, though may be served in urban settings. (White wine tends to be viewed as an infallible sign of liberalism.) For the kids, lemonade or fruit punch mix, made either too concentrated or too week. Did I mention coffee?

Having painted that dire culinary picture, let me add that my congregation, with its multi-ethnic diversity, has transcended the average Lutheran potluck creatively incorporating Mexican, Italian, French, Chinese, and various middle eastern cuisines into a mix that is sure to give you a case of heartburn that would make John Wesley envious. Our renowned Easter Agape Feast is a lavish banquet of roasted leg of lamb, smoked beef tenderloin, dolmathes, spanakopetes, olives, humus, skordalia, (my wife makes a mean pastitsio), topped off with pascha (a kind of spreadable cheesecake) and kulich (Russian Easter bread), baklava, and much fine wine, mostly red.

But I boast.


  1. AT Chaffee says

    Adventists are fond of potluck but don’t have alcohol, coffee or tea, pork, or shrimp. No meat unless it’s a back-slidden church :-), and the most virtuous potlucks are vegan. We do have some really exciting, high-sodium fake meat products with names reminiscent of dogfood (Tender Bits, Dinner Cuts, Fri-chik).

    That being said, potluck can be very good, especially among the more ethnic congregations.

  2. Brandon,
    You have it worse than I do by far. You must be due north of me somewhere. Of course, Manitoba is a big place.
    I was just remembering how much I miss the old homemade ice cream fellowships we would have on Sunday nights during the summer. Who cared about eating real food, those things were junk food heaven.

  3. wmcwirla,

    Trust me, us Anglicans (not least the anglo-catholic type) can hold our liquor just as good as any Roman Catholic or Orthodox. It’s just that Catholics drink lite beers and we go craft.

    Although there was thing missing from the description Fr Matthews: Valet parking!

  4. Vicki in NC says

    What, no chicken ‘n dumplins or fried okra? Bless your hearts!

  5. Anglicans do to have potlucks.

    They just call them “wine and cheese socials.”

  6. Bob Brague says

    Fr. Ernesto, isn’t a shrimp an animal? I’m pretty sure it’s not vegetable or mineral….

  7. Vicki,

    I couldn’t get it all in, but I do love some fried okra!


  8. “Apparently you all missed the most egregious sin–calling it a “potluck” instead of a “potbless” like a previously attended “non-denominational charismatic” church. They also called them “angel eggs”.”

    Sort of like “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Kisses” back in the early days of the Ira

  9. [Woops! Cat walked on keyboard, hit Send.]

    “Apparently you all missed the most egregious sin–calling it a “potluck” instead of a “potbless” like a previously attended “non-denominational charismatic” church. They also called them “angel eggs”.”

    Sort of like “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Kisses” back in the early days of the Iraq war.

  10. It could be I should be a multi-denominational — then I’d weigh at least 900 lbs. instead of the 450 I now weigh!

    But, my fav. would have to be the Episcopal style — catered … but only if catered by my Baptist friend, Mary W. That would be a meal which could create a new ecumenical movement!

    P.S. But, please, whatever persuasion — leave the store-bought fried & dried chicken or the family size store-bought frozen lasagna home. If you bring chicken or lasagna, make it real stuff.

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