Michael informs me that the best ideas are “co-opted” (which is to say, stolen), so it comes as no surprise to me that I stole this particular grumbling from him.
When we lived in Raleigh, our priest, a Tri-Cities boy, waxed poetic about the coffee bars and espresso stands that churches in WA all had. When we ended up at a church that which serves really bad AA-quality coffee (usually something that rhymes with Tracksbell Mouse or Smoldgers), we just knew for certain he must have been yanking our chain. But he wasn’t. It’s true that there are churches serving great java. Michael is a no-cream-no-bean kind of guy, and I didn’t actually get a cup of coffee at St. Ann’s, but they have great (which is to say, fresh) donuts at their coffee hour, which is not high on my list of requirements for a church, but fits in well with my thought that if the church is going to throw a party, it ought to be reflective of the Kingdom of God, and not an afterthought.
I don’t know who’s in charge, but St. Ann’s has huge boxes of fresh donuts with their coffee — not stingy cut donuts, or stale donuts, or some scary donut holes that someone grabbed out of the freezer, that are desiccated and still frozen . . . no, these are huge boxes of fresh donuts. They don’t chop them in halves or quarters in hopes of “stretching” them.
I had an instance once, where, as new member, I signed up to do coffee hour, and was asking about the particulars of what I needed to do (did I need to make the coffee? what was involved in cleaning up properly? how much food should I bring?), and the woman I was talking with said, “Oh, just bring a couple boxes of crackers and some cheese. Or some cookies. They don’t need anything fancy.”
We (that is, Western culture in general, and Christians in particular) have a long history of sitting down to eat with each other, of breaking bread. When we invite guests over to eat with us, we prepare our homes and our food to be warm and welcoming and nutritious. So what happens on Sunday morning, when we’re throwing a party in the Kingdom of God? What’s happened that we show our love for our church family (and friends and neighbors and visitors) by tossing out some boxes of crackers and some stale donuts?
I suspect, as I mentioned in the St. Ann’s report, that part of it is an “old guard” burnout issue . . . but I suspect there’s more to it. Of course, in an age with many dual-income couples, there’s burnout on cooking in general, so that plays a part. It’s a lot of work, or an outlay of cash (or both) to put fresh, inviting, delicious food on for coffee hour in a church that’s more than a handful. And I wonder, sometimes, if people don’t feel like those who partake “don’t appreciate” the time and energy that goes into the preparation.
But coffee hour is one of those points in the life of the church that’s serves an important role in building relationships within the community. It’s where friendships are made, greetings and concerns are exchanged, plans are solidified for the coming week, or months, or year. It’s a time where anyone can strike up a conversation with anyone else, and can interact in a low-pressure environment. It’s a time where, without the constraints of gathering separately, the group of people in attendance become a congregation.
But we so often treat it like it’s just another chore. Another thing to check off the list of being a good church goer. Another time we don’t have to tell the little old lady who schedules the coffee hour “no.” Another thing that has to be done this weekend. But that attitude shows.
My sister, who doesn’t care to cook, says that the reason the food prepared by other people tastes so good, is because there’s love put into it. It’s the reason, according to her, that homebaked cookies taste better than boxed. Or even just that a PB&J tastes better when your mom makes it. This might very well explain why your parent’s cooking is invariably better than the school cafeteria’s.
So here’s your church family–and there’s a box of cookies. You can certainly arrange them nicely on a plate, or even buy the very best brands, but they’re never going to have that love. Are you really partying like Jesus is in da’ House with that box of off-brand cracker knock-offs and the lowest end mild cheddar your grocery had on sale?
Coffee hour after church is a continuation of the Kingdom of God in the here and now, people.
You’ve already acknowledged that God is present in the worship. Unless you think He’s slipped down the block to the afternoon full-Gospel service, He’s probably still present for coffee hour.
How much different would the church be if we acted like it?
No, really–how much different would the church be is we acted like God was really there? How much different would it be if we acted like we believed that Jesus was in da’ House and ready to grab a cup of Joe with us after the service?