What do you do when you need to cook for 30 people for a Sunday lunch? In our house, you get the cauldron out.
Before you start reading out Macbeth and building a pyre, it’s a large steel preserving pan that the group of students from our church we feed most weeks have dubbed ‘the cauldron’. Or maybe you got stuck in the previous sentence, because cooking for 30 people for lunch after church is alien, or superhuman, or unimaginable. I get that.
This wasn’t a normal Sunday for us, we’re in a church near one of the University campuses and about a third of our church is students. At the start of term in a September we, like most churches near a University, host groups of new first year students in a number of homes. We were hosting a student lunch that week and for one reason or another the other homes that students were going to were unable to have them, so we were catering for an unknown number of students, hence the many pots of cassoulet bubbling on the hob.
Helen, my wife, is an excellent cook and more importantly actively enjoys feeding people. She’s in her element with the challenge of figuring out how to stretch our food to go further. She’s also never knowingly under-catered so on this occasion cooked for 45. Go big or go home, I say.
We had 19 students that week, which meant it also fed our mid-week group, and a family in the church whose kitchen was out of action, and another family the following Sunday, with some spare to go in the freezer for one of those days your home fills with hungry people you weren’t expecting.
I don’t expect everyone to do what we did that day, or to have the space in your home to even make it possible. Those mass groups aren’t my favourite anyway, I’d much prefer 6 or 8 sat around one table enjoying each other’s company and perhaps a bottle of wine. But the principle should be a lot more normal than it is.
I’d like to reframe two things as normal that are less normal in Christian culture than they should be:
Adding an extra mouth to a meal should be a skill we learn
You meet someone at church that week who’s new and want to invite them back for food to get to know them a bit better? That’s difficult unless you’ve either cooked for a bigger number of people deliberately, which is a wonderful thing to do but does tend to leave you with a lot of leftovers, or you’ve learned how to stretch a meal.
We feed our ‘Life Group’ every week, which I think is how this sort of thing works best, they’re mostly students or new graduates. We have at times had some lads who can really put it away—the sort of thing where you wonder if they are intending to eat again that week.
Regularly feeding large groups can get expensive if you just multiply up what you might cook for two of you, so you have to approach the meals a little differently. From the family I consider our mentors in all things hospitality we learned the wonders of a loaf of bread.
Need to add a couple of extra mouths to the meal? Just serve a loaf of bread, everything will stretch to go round more people, almost as if by magic. They did think yeast was magic—and a state secret—in ancient Egypt, hence the baker being an important court position, but not that kind of magic. We are meant to be a people of bread, it’s the basic food of life, serving it will allow everyone to go home full and allow everyone to mop up the remainder of that wonderful sauce you slaved over.
Bread makes a huge difference to a meal. Which shouldn’t surprise us, wait until you see what a bottle of wine can do.
If you never eat with others after church on a Sunday then something is wrong
I think this is true. To be absolutely fair, we should widen this to include eating with Christians from your church at some point in the week relatively frequently. And, in case it needs spelling out, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you.
We know that you wouldn’t be qualified for church leadership if you aren’t hospitable (1 Timothy 3), and not theoretically hospitable but known for it and good it at, having practised. This is the part of the church meeting when you get to know people more deeply, where you get to laugh together, where you get to understand their worlds and offer what wisdom you have.
For everyone else though, eating together is part of being a family. If your church does a good talk of family and you never get inside anyone else’s home to rest then it is just talk.
We should consider this an essential. If you have multiple meetings on a Sunday don’t schedule them in such a way that you can’t eat with people before or after. If you’re ‘too tired’ to host—and we’re not talking every week here—then something has to give, though it may be your idea of what rest is.
Of course, you don’t have to be the one hosting. Plenty of readers will think that they wouldn’t be able to host. While I’m not always sure if that’s true, it’s good to work together and play to each other’s strengths.
Maybe you often host but are feeling burned out from the pain of never being invited anywhere else, as though no one in your church notices you or considers having you to their table. This is hard, dear friend. We have to remember that isn’t why we have people to sit round our tables. We do it because we love them, we do it because we want to know them and allow ourselves to be known, and we do it because we want them to feel welcomed, invited, and included.
Which means we do it for a deeper reason: because God in Christ has invited us to come and sit at his table and served us fine food—bread and wine. We are welcomed by the Father. We are invited by the Son. We are included by the Spirit.
Perhaps you never get the invitation. You’re overlooked, unnoticed, and feel like no one ever sees you in your loneliness. This does not speak well of your church, but I imagine it happens to some people in most churches. I certainly wouldn’t want to be proud enough to suggest it doesn’t happen in mine. It happens to plenty of church leaders too.
I don’t mean to be blasé, as this can be brutally painful to experience. It isn’t right and it shouldn’t happen.
What can you do? You can invite yourself round to someone else’s. I know it goes against every cultural fibre we have here in the UK, but you actually can. If you don’t feel up to that, pray that others see you and that you know God sees you, and trust that they read the next paragraph.
If this isn’t you, look for these people. They are in your church and it is slowly killing them. Look for the person on the edge who doesn’t get included, have them around your table. Look for the person who is very much ‘in’ but gets overlooked, have them around your table. Look for the person who hosts all the time but never gets invited elsewhere, have them around your table.
Look at your pastor and their family—have them around your table.
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