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When I was being ordained in the Baptist Church, I was asked to write out a statement of faith. The point was to outline one's theology, but many of you know me well enough to know by now that I can't take everything seriously.

So, when it came time to discuss "sacrements" in the Baptist church, I said:

"Baptists have three sacrements - communion, marriage, and potluck."

I was only half joking. Fairly central to the stereotype of the Baptist church is the potluck dinner. Episcopalians have the sacred rite of Coffee Hour. And, apparently Catholics have the Church Dinner thing going on too. In short, it seems like food is a central part of many churches.

I seem to remember something about "love feasts" somewhere in Scripture - but how is it that the humble potluck has had such a wide influence on church life?

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I've got a bad feeling this tradition may have pagan roots... –  Peter Turner Mar 19 '13 at 18:02
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Luke 14 mentions a Sabbath meal and other places (e.g., Luke 15:2) speak of the offensiveness of Jesus' eating with sinners, so clearly shared meals were a part of Jewish culture. The understanding of the Church as family makes such shared meals even more understandable. Such also speaks of Christian joy (celebratory meal), trust and openness (opposite of "Soup Stone"). As a side note, such meals can be a means of serving the poor with less embarrassment than begging or being directly given a gift--perhaps not quite as nice leaving gleanings and unharvested edges. –  Paul A. Clayton Mar 19 '13 at 18:47
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@PeterTurner. Shared meals are surely central to many cultures, and need not be inherited from one to another. It's a tradition which could easily arise independently in many different situations. –  TRiG Mar 19 '13 at 19:33
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I thought about it and I just do not see this as on topic. As TRiG points out, gathering for meals is not exclusive to any group and just seems human nature. Although I find the question interesting I'm afraid I have to vote to close as off topic. –  fredsbend the Grinch Mar 19 '13 at 21:01

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

A "potluck", in this context, is nothing more than a meal shared among members of a Church after a service. There's no doctrinal or ritual significance to it, as you know, and it's not ordained. it's simply sharing a meal amongst our Church family.

Jesus often ate with His disciples, so an argument could be made that Christians can trace it there. You could use the miraculous feeding of the multitudes, I suppose. However...

I'm sure the practice of eating after a service or worship, people bringing food, sharing time and a meal together far predates even New testament times. You could probably, if you liked, trace it right back to Adam and Eve eating of the fruit of the Garden (even if only allegorically, as many would interpret that book.) You may as well ask "When did the institution of greeting a brother in Christ" or "shaking hands after the second Hymn get it's start"

The answer is, of course, back at the beginning. It's just what families do. Our Church family, our co-workers, our biological family, or in-laws. We just enjoy spending time with those we care about.

More here: http://www.fbcbennington.org/sermonsjhh/2011/7/15/in-search-of-the-new-testament-potluck-acts-237-47.html

Excerpt:

On this final day of VBS, the adults and the children are exploring Acts 2:37-47. Right in the midst of these essentials of the Church’s identity, we learn that we are not the first believers to connect “food” to the Christian faith. Indeed, the first churches learned that “breaking bread together” gave them as much a sense of identity as did the teaching, the praying, and the sharing with one another. Being together at table is essential to church as any prayer, hymn, or sermon.

When you think back over your life, do you remember a good meal at church? I think of the dinner rolls of Anna Brown, a dedicated lay woman who had a kind word literally for every person around the table (a feat among Kansas Baptists, who are better known for having opinions on just about everything and everybody). I recall the skilled cooking of Orman Halderman, who learned to cook during his WWII service years, able to rally a fine meal every month out of a volunteer group of men trying to cook, without Orman’s leadership otherwise would have brought new meaning to the phrase “green eggs and ham”. I recollect the kindness shown by the search committee when coming to visit First Baptist, Bennington, five years ago. You heard that Kerry was a vegetarian and made especial effort to offer a meal sensitive to her dietary convictions. That meant a lot. And later this morning, we will make our way down the hall for the meal that will recall the words of an old hymn: “feed me till I want no more.”

If you were to claim that “food” is somehow secondary to “church”, I would disagree gladly. Without meals together, we forget skills and values that worship cannot impart to us. In the pews, there’s a formalism that the supper bell sets aside. At table, we get to know the person beside us in the pews. (A good suggestion for potluck: Sit down by somebody later today that you have not connected with in a spell. Breaking bread together is a great icebreaker for churches to get to know one another. Better yet, find somebody you cannot recall getting to know yet. It may be a little uneasy at first, but remember, the person across from you is a fellow congregant. You have “First Baptist” in common!)

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This is a good answer- I want to see if anyone else picks up on the agape feast, but this is good :) –  Yuletide Geek Mar 20 '13 at 0:15
    
How did it start among Baptists, though? It seems strange that it would have a biblical basis, because while there are cases of people eating together (the first miracle of Jesus, for example), it's not instructed. So what prompted it? Where do you folks eat this food? Is this done after or before the service, or at an organized time? ...Maybe I should just ask "What is potluck?". –  Alypius Mar 20 '13 at 4:20

In 1 Corinthians 11: 17-22, Paul is absolutely railing on the Corinthians: "For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk." (verse 21.) So far in my research, I've found that early Christians gathered together for love feasts, which was followed by the Lord's Supper. Unfortunately, some of the richer ones brought a large quantity of food and wine and ate and drank to excess--without sharing. Not only did this shame the poor, it meant some were taking part in the Supper while drunken. Hence, the cause for Paul's strong words. Eventually, the sacrament was separated from the love feast. Others have commented that a shared meal is common in many cultures, and indeed it is. Eating with another person conveys trust and fellowship. The potluck (I actually prefer to call it "pot blessing," thank you.) is therefore reminiscent of the early Christian love feasts, where the whole point is to share food, love, and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Oh, and by the way, I was raised Lutheran and they're all pretty convinced potluck is one of their sacraments. They haven't replaced their baptismal fonts with blue graniteware roasters yet, but if it was brought up at the annual meeting, they might just vote it in.

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Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. This answer would be better with some sources. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend the Grinch Sep 23 at 3:52

Although I cannot attest to its accuracy, my Grandmother (back in the Ancient days of the 50's) used to sit on the front porch and we grandkids would sit and listen to her stories about those even more ancient days, in her life. Believe it or not we didn't have any electronic gadgets to play with back then and listening to our elders was considered a good thing. But I reminisce, so back to the answer.

According to her much of the common practices in the modern Churches began during World War 2. With wars going on both in the Pacific and Europe manpower at home was severely lacking. Many of the jobs traditionally held by men were taken up by women, and during that period the church became a gathering place for the women. Many people today are unaware that food was rationed during WW2 in the U.S. and often when the women would gather to hear the latest news about the War and how each member of the community was doing who were deployed, (back then we didn't have instant messaging or e-mail so letters were the primary source of information.)

Since almost all of the women worked during the week, and because food was rationed, after the Services on Sunday it became ritualistic for them to gather and eat and share the latest letters from the men. Since food was rationed it was not unusual for them to put what they were able to bring into a common pot, and thus the name 'potluck'.

Even though this may or may not be the origin of the potluck in the Baptist Church or any other for that matter, pales in relation to the value it has as a heartwarming story.

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