Few people are better able to see the theological significance of food than my friend Adrian Miller.
Adrian, executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, is a culinary historian, as well as being a lawyer and public policy advisor. He’s the author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, an award-winning look at the way the food culture of the Southern Black Belt has evolved as it has spread across the country.
His research for that book led him to publish a second book last year, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas.It, too, has been nominated for a literary award.
I haven’t seen Adrian since I left the bishop’s staff three years ago, so I was delighted to come across an essay he recently wrotefor Faith & Leadership, a publication of Duke Divinity School. In the essay, “Toward a theology of barbecue,” Adrian traces the rich history of barbecues as a tool for evangelism in the black church.
“In many ways, the challenges that evangelists faced in the days of the camp meetings are the same challenges that churches face today,” Adrian writes. “How do we spark someone’s interest in God? How do we hold together a sacred community? What are the best ways to keep someone coming back?”
“Barbecue may not be the perfect answer to all of these questions,” he concludes. “But I can vouch for its success in bringing people together to embrace a faith-filled life. Barbecue, at its theological and culinary best, reinforces a church’s important social role; it enhances the communal experience of God, sharing in his bounty through a delicious meal.”
Mind you, I read this Sunday afternoon, shortly after we had wrapped up our own Feast of Saint James / Homecoming celebration. We may not have had barbecue, but the mouth-watering smell of our hamburgers and hotdogs roasting on the grill drew in more than one hungry visitor to our lawn.
People came because of the food. They came because of the bluegrass music pouring out of the amplifiers. They came because someone invited them. They came because it was a chance to renew old friendships or to start new ones.
They came and they came and they came. And wasn’t it glorious! We think we had 78 folks present for worship, but the numbers got real fluid after that because people kept pouring in, so I honestly have no idea how many came in total. I’m guessing it was close to a hundred. And no one left hungry. I pray that people were filled spiritually as well as physically.
How wonderful to take the Lord’s Supper that we share every Sunday, and extend it into the bountiful spread that we were blessed to share on our lawn on Sunday.
Good food. Good music. Good fellowship. Good weather. It was a good, good day, and a great day to call Saint James “home.” I hope all who attended felt closer to God by meal’s end. And maybe some of our new friends, or our old friends, will come back again, will “come home to Saint James.”