Any time we have a discussion about a meal at church and the discussion turns to how we are going to pay for it before we talk about why we are having the meal or what we are going to have, I’m afraid the folks in the room know what I’m going to say because, at least on this point, I’m rather predictable. I have a rather well-rehearsed rant that goes something like:
If we’re going to fix a meal, then let’s do it right. We don’t have to spend a lot of money to prepare nice food, and to make people feel as though we mean what we are doing. If we don’t intend to do the best we can, why do it? Do we want people to think church dinners are always substandard meals?
OK — that’s the abbreviated version, but you get the idea.
I got to make the speech again a couple of weeks ago as we planned for our annual Teacher appreciation Dinner. The quality of the meal speaks to the quality of our gratitude. For a number of years, the church paid for everyone to go to a local Chinese restaurant, which meant we had a nice meal and no one was stuck with the dishes. A couple of years ago, we convinced ourselves that kind of gratitude was too extravagant and decided the Christian Education Committee would prepare the meal in our Parish Hall. (Insert the above speech here.) Yesterday afternoon, committee members met to prepare the food and set up the room.
The woman who decorated the hall did a great job. Undecorated, the room looks a lot like an unfinished roller rink. By pulling the room dividers and using some red-checkered tablecloths and candles stuck in wine bottles, she turned it into a cozy little cafe. Our cooking team went to work as well. We served Open Chicken Marsala Ravioli and Oreo Ice Cream Pie (not my recipe, but I’ll get it). The whole event cost about a hundred dollars and we served thirty people. After dinner, people sat at the tables and talked for almost an hour. Some of us still had to do dishes, but it was worth it. We did a good job saying thank you.
Up until my grandmother died, she had a framed thank you note I wrote her when I was ten or eleven, which said, “I’m writing to say thanks for the Christmas present because Mom said if I didn’t write a thank you note I wouldn’t get any more presents.” Cute for a kid, maybe, but a lousy thank you. And yet, I’m afraid it is the kind of appreciation we too often offer one another. Acting as though a thrown-together Ragu Reward is going to make someone feel appreciated is fooling ourselves but not fooling them. True thanks ought to cost us something. When we come across as though we a just throwing a bone so we can check it off our list, the alleged gratitude is hollow and condescending.
I love to cook, so good food is a good way for me to say thanks, but it’s not the only way. Good gratitude starts by asking, “What do I have most to give and what do they most need to receive?”
It doesn’t have to be open ravioli, but it does need to be open-hearted.